8 Ways to Get More Exercise When You Have Fibromyalgia

Try these expert-backed tips to fit more physical activity into your day.

Updated on May 19, 2023

an older white woman and younger Asian woman celebrate after doing a yoga class
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People with fibromyalgia often feel like they’re in a bind: They need to exercise, but it can be tiring. The constitution of their muscle fibers results in reduced strength and less endurance, according to neurologist Dawn Marcus, MD, author of The Woman's Fibromyalgia Toolkit. But there are strategies that can help you exercise without fatigue and pain.

One way is to “start low and go slow,” Dr. Marcus says, and increase intensity very gradually. Another is to exercise in small segments—think three 10-minute spurts instead of one 30-minute workout. And instead of forcing yourself to go to the gym, look for opportunities to exercise throughout the day. Here are smart ways to fit more movement into your day.

an older white woman walks from a parking lot to a doctor's office
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Park the Car and Walk

You may have heard that you need to get 10,000 steps daily for optimal health, but if you’re just starting out in your fitness regimen, 10,000 can sound like a steep mountain to climb. The good news is that you can benefit from increasing your daily step count no matter where you’re starting, and research shows that the health benefits really start to accrue around 7,000 per day.  

One way to work toward that goal is to build more steps into your day naturally. Start by parking your car farther away, whether at work, school, or the grocery store. Instead of circling the parking lot looking for the closest spot, spend that time walking to your destination. Drive-throughs are convenient, but they also eliminate the need for a short walk. Park and walk into the store to make your transactions to earn a few additional steps.

closeup of a woman's feet using a vacuum cleaner to clean a carpet in a home
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Clean the House

Talk about multitasking: The more you clean house, the fitter you'll be. Hate scouring the shower and tub? Embrace it: “Cleaning bathrooms burns a tremendous number of calories,” says Diane Hart, president of the National Association of Health and Fitness. “It requires a lot of scrubbing and range of motion. You have to be in really good shape.” Pushing a vacuum around the house and carrying it up and down stairs also counts. Once a week, put your sneakers on, do some stretches and clean!

a young Latina woman does some stretching in her living room while she watches TV
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Work Out While You Watch TV

When you have fibromyalgia, the fatigue and pain you experience makes it tempting to spend time on the couch. Try not to. Standing or moving during activities your ordinarily spend sitting can keep the blood flowing and earn you steps along the way. And although it may feel comfortable, sitting or lounging is also an unnatural position for the body that places strain on your back and shortens your hip flexors, which can add to pain.

If you’re watching TV, use commercials or scene changes as your signal to move. Do jumping jacks to get your heart rate up or wall squats to strengthen your legs. Shift your weight from one foot to the other to improve balance. Consider getting a treadmill or exercise bike to use while you watch your favorite episodes.

an older Asian American woman walks a dog down a suburban sidewalk
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Walk With a Friend

Research shows that one of the most important factors for sticking with exercise is having a reliable exercise buddy. And who could be more reliable than a dog? Unlike two-legged friends, your loyal pooch will never have an excuse not to walk. Plus, there’s added motivation to stick with it because you're doing it for your dog as well as yourself.

If you don’t have a furry friend, a human walking partner will do. Walking is probably the most popular form of exercise because it’s easy to adjust the speed, distance, and intensity (by adding hills), says Marcus. Be sure to start slowly, walking in 10-minute increments, and pick up the pace and distance gradually.

Here’s how to gauge your comfort zone, says Marcus: If you can walk and carry on a conversation, you’re at a moderate, just-right intensity level. If you can sing a song, it's time to pick up the pace a bit. And if you are so out of breath that you’re speechless, it may be a signal to dial it back.

a young Asian American woman reads to her daughter on a beautiful day in a park
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Play with Your Kids

If you have young kids, you know how hard it is to find time for the family to relax together. And when fibromyalgia symptoms flare, it's even harder. But playing with kids is a great way to connect and to instill a love of physical fitness.

That doesn’t mean you need to hustle everyone off to the gym: Kids have a natural love of physical activity. Join them in a game of catch in the yard or at the playground, shoot some hoops together, or jump in the pool. Start a new family ritual of ending your day with an evening walk around the neighborhood.

a pair of feet stick out from under sheets on a bed
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Make Love

A minute of sexual activity burns around 3 to 4 calories. It may not sound like a lot, but little bits add up. It's also a great stress-reliever.

“A 30-minute bout of exercise releases the negative adrenaline in the brain that makes you feel exhausted,” says Hart. “After 30 minutes of exercise that adrenaline dissipates, so you feel great.” Sex also stretches muscles, she adds. Like any exercise, it raises your heart rate and increases blood flow. Not to mention what it does for your love life and your connection with your partner.

a group of working professionals, men, women, people of all ages and racial and ethnic groups, gather for a standing meeting
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Stay Active at Work

Answering e-mail, talking on the phone, sitting in meetings: Desk jobs don't typically allow for much movement. To work more activity into your day, walk over to a colleague’s desk to talk rather than sending a message, stand while talking on the phone, or take the stairs rather than the elevator.

You don’t always have to hunker down in the conference room, either. Suggest a “walking meeting” and brainstorm with colleagues while taking a stroll. You can always record notes on your phone. You can also do exercises while waiting for a meeting. For a good workout for your quadriceps muscles, try wall sits: Press your back against the wall and slide down to the point where your thighs are parallel to the floor, as if sitting in a chair. Hold the position as long as you can until your form starts to slip.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Sauch Valmaña G, Vidal-Alaball J, Poch PR, et al. Effects of a Physical Exercise Program on Patients Affected with Fibromyalgia. J Prim Care Community Health. 2020;11:2150132720965071.
Paluch AE, Gabriel KP, Fulton JE, et al. Steps per Day and All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged Adults in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(9):e2124516. Published 2021 Sep 1.
Paluch AE, Bajpai S, Bassett DR, et al. Daily steps and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis of 15 international cohorts. Lancet Public Health. 2022;7(3):e219-e228.
Frappier J, Toupin I, Levy JJ, Aubertin-Leheudre M, Karelis AD. Energy expenditure during sexual activity in young healthy couples. PLoS One. 2013;8(10):e79342. Published 2013 Oct 24.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 3 Reasons to Work Out With a Friend. Last Reviewed: July 7, 2022.

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