Researchers gave 170 women with fibromyalgia customized exercise prescriptions and then checked with them at 12, 24 and 36 weeks to gauge its effect.
Only 27 people adopted the moderate-to-vigorous activity levels prescribed to them and stuck with it. That's only about 16%. Meanwhile, 68 (40%) started out with the exercise program and then decreased their activity levels, and 75 people (44%) never achieved the benchmark for activity increase.
So what happened? The conclusion we've heard before: increased activity led to better physical function and overall well-being. However, the ones who stuck with the activity increase didn't fare any better than those who tried in and then backed off.
On top of that, researchers said their findings suggest that increased volume is not associated with worsening pain. In a press release, one researcher said:
"For many people with fibromyalgia, they will exercise for a week or two and then start hurting and think that exercise is aggravating their pain, so they stop exercising. We hope that our findings will help reduce patients' fear and reassure them that sustained exercise will improve their overall health and reduce their symptoms without worsening their pain." ~Dennis C. Ang, MD.
What I would like to say to Dr. Ang and other researchers is that those of us with fibromyalgia get really good at reading our bodies. We know that we need to exercise. We also know what exertion does to us - and it most definitely can cause pain flares.
I'm not sure where the disconnect is between us and researchers. Look at how many people were able to sustain the prescribed activity levels of the study - just under 16 percent. That means 84% of participants either didn't or couldn't.
I know I've made concerted efforts to be more active on a daily basis. The problem is, like most of us, my capacity for activity changes from day to day. And you know what? If I don't respect that, I pay.
Say I decide to do 45 minutes of vigorous activity per day, based on careful experimentation that tells me I can handle 45 minutes. After several days, I wake up one morning with very little energy. If I push myself to do that 45 minutes, I'm going to crash. It'll probably happen within a couple of hours of exercising, but might take until the next day. I'd most likely be on the couch for about 48 hours afterward.
Thing is, I've learned to tell when my body can and can't handle activity. So, Dr. Ang, when I stop exercising it's because I'm not able to exercise at that particular time. It's not that a routine flare comes along and I mistakenly blame exercise. It's that I have ups and downs and have to adapt to that.
How can I put faith in the idea that most of us would be more active, in a sustained way, if we could? Because I hear from people every day who say, "I just wish I could do what I used to." They want to go back to their full-time jobs. They want to go back to the sports they used to enjoy. They want to go back to a normal life. And what happens when they over do it? They crash. We all know the routine.
I wish researchers would take a more realistic approach to exercise and fibromyalgia. I do believe that regular activity - tailored to our individual abilities - can improve our symptoms. But they don't seem to understand that our activity level will always fluctuate due to our symptoms.
What do you think? Are researchers too fixated on exercise? How could their approach be more realistic? What's your experience with exercise? Leave your comments below!
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