Short Bursts of Activity Ease Fibromyalgia

Walking More, Gardening, Taking the Stairs Help Fibromyalgia Patients Feel and Function Better, Study Finds

By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

March 29, 2010 -- Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing if you are among the 10 million Americans living with the chronic pain disorder fibromyalgia. Yet a new study shows that incorporating short bursts of physical activity into the day makes fibromyalgia patients feel and function better. The findings appear in Arthritis Research & Therapy.

"Just trying to accumulate a little more physical activity throughout the normal course of the day, as opposed to engaging in traditional exercise, can improve self-reported measures of functioning and pain among people with fibromyalgia," lead researcher Kevin Fontaine, PhD, an assistant professor of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, tells WebMD in an email. "You don't necessarily have to do traditional exercise to reap some benefits, [and] this may motivate people with fibromyalgia who find it difficult to stick with traditional exercise to simply try to get a little more active during the day."

In the 12-week study of 84 people with fibromyalgia, people who incorporated 30 minutes' worth of lifestyle physical activity into their days five to seven days a week took 54% more steps per day than their counterparts who participated in a fibromyalgia education program, which discussed the importance of physical activity in the treatment of this disease, but did not provide any specific recommendations. The lifestyle physical activity group also reported fewer perceived deficits in their physical function and less pain than people in the disease education group, the study showed.

What Is Lifestyle Physical Activity?

Lifestyle physical activity refers to finding ways to accumulate short bursts of physical activity into the day. This can be walking more, gardening, taking the stairs, or really anything that gets you moving more. The current school of thought suggests that such small bursts of exercise throughout the day can be as effective as exercising for 30 consecutive minutes.

"There is probably no single good or best exercise or lifestyle physical activity prescription for people with fibromyalgia because there is such variability in symptoms between people," he says. "For many, walking is helpful, but some may prefer water exercise or cycling."

The bottom line? "The best exercise or lifestyle physical activity is the one that a person can stick with and one that doesn't significantly worsen their symptoms," Fontaine says. "The main thing is for people with fibromyalgia to try to do something physical just about every day."

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SOURCES: Fontaine, K. Arthritis Research & Therapy.

Kevin Fontaine, PhD, assistant professor, rheumatology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

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