What kind of exercise can people with fibromyalgia do?

Tina Whitlock
Fitness
Speaking from the point of veiw of someone with fibromyalgia, I find walking is a great place to start (if that is an option). You may find the pool is even better. Warm water can improve symptoms, cold water may increase them. Yoga can also be very beneficial for fibromyalgia, try gentle or warm water yoga. Foam rolling or self myofacial release (SMR) is also a great way to help increase flexibility and ease the pain of fibromyalgia. 
Dawn Marcus
Neurology
Exercise has proved to be one of the most helpful treatments for reducing fibromyalgia symptoms. The most effective exercises include:

Aerobic exercise
  • Do whole-body stretches before beginning your workout.
  • After a 5-minute warm-up, exercise for a total of 20 minutes, followed by a 5-minute cool-down.
  • Do aerobic exercise at least 4 days per week.
  • Doing aerobic exercise in warm water may be beneficial.
Strength training
  • Work up to doing 8-12 repetitions per strength exercise.
  • Do strength training 2-3 days per week.
Joanne Duncan-Carnesciali, CPT,NASM Elite Trainer
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
The American College of Sports Medicine Recommends low to moderate intensity aerobic activities such as walking, cycling and aquatics.  The ACSM also highlight that individuals with FM find overhead movements difficult because the the musculature of the shoulder region does not tolerate sustained overhead movements.

Activities such as tai chi and yoga are also exercise options for individuals living with FM.
Jacob Teitelbaum
Integrative Medicine
I recommend walking. The key is that being an energy crisis, there is not enough energy to condition properly. Because of this if you exercise too much, you will get post-exertional fatigue and will end up being bed-bound for a day or two. Walk to the degree that feels comfortable each day, even if it is just a few minutes. After 10 weeks on the SHINE protocol, your energy level will increase dramatically and you will be able to increase your walking by up to one minute a day. When up to 60 minutes a day comfortably, you can start to increase the intensity. For those with very severe fibromyalgia who cannot even walk, beginning conditioning in a warm-water pool can be helpful.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Most any types of endurance, strengthening, and stretching exercises are awesome if you have fibromyalgia. But even completely healthy folks have trouble dragging themselves to the gym. If you have fibro, you'd probably rather lie face down in a pile of dirty socks than go for a jog.

But here's the contradiction. The widespread or deep muscle pain and fatigue of fibro makes you naturally want to exert yourself as little as possible, but if you can manage to start moving more, you'll start to feel less pain and fatigue. Think about it like this: Giving into the pain is just what that pain wants you to do. You have to fight against it. If you start moving around even for 5 or 10 minutes to start, you will begin to strengthen your core body and increase your physical endurance.

But you sure don't have to train for a triathalon with fibromyalgia. In a study reported in the Archives of General Medicine, researchers found that people with fibromyalgia who were taking medication benefited from walking, simple strengthening movements, and stretching. Try using moist heat applications or a warm shower before and after your exercise session. The warm heat on the painful muscles helps to lower both pain and stiffness. Above all, talk openly with your doctor. Get more information on what you can do to increase fitness and endurance with fibromyalgia.
William D. Knopf, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Generally, light aerobic exercises are recommended for fibromyalgia patients. These may include walking or water type aerobic exercises. Physical therapy is also a good addition to exercise.
There is increasing evidence that a regular exercise routine is essential for people with fibromyalgia (FM). The increased pain and fatigue caused by repetitive exertion makes regular exercise quite difficult. However, those who develop an exercise regimen experience worthwhile improvement and are reluctant to give up. In general, people with FM must avoid impact loading exertion such as jogging, basketball, aerobics, etc. Regular walking, the use of a stationary bicycle and pool therapy utilizing an Aqua Jogger (a floatation device that allows the user to walk or run in the swimming pool while remaining upright) seem to be the most suitable activities for people with FM.

Supervision by a physical therapist or exercise physiologist is of benefit wherever possible. In general, 20 minutes of physical activity three times a week at 70% of maximum heart rate (220 minus your age) is sufficient to maintain a reasonable level of aerobic fitness.

It is important to note that for a person with fibromyalgia any exercise program  needs to be entered into in a "go slow" manner.  Many people with fibromyalgia will only be able to do a few minutes of exercising -- even walking -- to begin with. If the person starts at three minutes a day and slowly adds minutes until they work up to 20 minutes, that is a great goal. Eventually, working up to exercising 20 minutes three times a day is optimal.
Exercise is good medicine for people with fibromyalgia. Studies show it can reduce pain, increase energy, lift mood, relieve stress and increase strength and flexibility, all with few or no side effects. The trick is to exercise in a way that doesn't hurt.
 
Some people with fibromyalgia find that swimming or working out in water is a great way to start because it's easy on the joints. Walking, stretching, yoga and tai chi are also good ways to improve flexibility and reduce stress when you have this chronic pain condition.

Eventually, you can build up to more strenuous activities, such as bicycling, running and aerobics. Whatever you do, start out slowly, build gradually and always listen to your body.
People with fibromyalgia can exercise, and they should. Research shows that regular exercise can reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia -- including pain, sleep problems and fatigue -- improve muscle strength and flexibility, lessen stress and anxiety and prevent weight gain and improve overall health.

Some studies show that working out in a swimming pool (taking a water aerobics class, say) is a good activity for many people with fibromyalgia because it's easy on joints. Stretching, walking, yoga and tai chi are other good exercises for people with fibromyalgia. Eventually many people with fibromyalgia can add more strenuous activities, such as jogging or running, bicycling and aerobics classes to their exercise routines.

If you have fibromyalgia and want to exercise, start out slowly, set small goals for yourself and gradually increase how much you work out. If there are specific activities you'd like to try, ask your doctor how to do them safely.

Continue Learning about Fibromyalgia and Exercise

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.