People with fibromyalgia are in a bind: They need to exercise, but working out can be tiring. Folks with fibro have smaller white muscle fibers, "the kind responsible for muscle contraction," says neurologist Dawn Marcus, MD, author ofThe Woman's Fibromyalgia Tookit. "That results in reduced strength and less endurance."
Fortunately, there are strategies that can help you exercise without fatigue and pain. One way is to “start low and go slow,” she says, and increase the intensity level very gradually. Another is to exercise in small segments -- three separate 10-minute bouts instead of one 30-minute workout. Finally, instead of thinking of workouts as requiring a trip to the gym, take advantage of the many opportunities for exercise throughout the day -- and get moving!
Park the car and walk
The National Association for Health and Fitness recommends taking at least 5,000 steps per day to stay in shape (and RealAge Test co-founder Mike Roizen, MD, recommends 10,000 steps daily for optimal health). One way to fill that quota is to park your car farther away. In other words, instead of wasting time circling the parking lot looking for the closest spot, spend your time walking to your destination. If you drive to work, parking your car at the far end of the lot will add lots of extra steps twice daily. Don’t pay at the pump or pick up food at the drive-through window, either. Park and walk into the store to make your transactions.
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Clean the house
Talk about multitasking: The more you clean house, the fitter you'll be. Studies show that people lose an average of 5 pounds during economic hard times when they have to let their housecleaners go. Hate scouring the shower and tub? Embrace it: “Cleaning bathrooms burns a tremendous amount 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 is also great exercise. Once a week, put your sneakers on, do some stretches and clean!
Work out while you watch TV
When you have fibromyalgia, it's tempting to flop on the couch. Try not to. “Sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time changes the blood chemistry,” says Hart. “The blood thickens, making it more difficult for the heart to pump.” It's also an unnatural position for the body that's hard on your back and shortens your hip flexors, which can contribute to fibro pain. When watching TV, she recommends using the commercial breaks as your signal to move. Do some jumping jacks to get your blood moving or wall squats to strengthen your legs. Shift your weight from one foot to the other to improve balance. Consider purchasing a treadmill or exercise bike to use while you catch the latest episode of "Mad Men."
Walk the dog
Research shows that the most important factor in sticking with an exercise program 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 the dog as well as yourself. Walking is probably the most popular form of exercise -- it’s easy to adjust the speed, distance, and intensity (by adding hills), says Marcus. Just be sure to start slowly, walking in 10-minute increments, and pick up the pace and distance gradually. No matter how fast, slow, or long you walk, Fido will be happy!
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 trundle everyone off to the gym: Kids have a natural love of physical activity. Join them in a game of catch in the back yard, shoot some hoops together, or jump in the pool and horse around with them. Start a new family ritual of catching up on your day with an evening walk around the neighborhood.
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A 30-minute session of sexual activity can burn up to 350 calories, or the equivalent of half of a spin class, says Hart. 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,” she says. “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.
When fibro fatigue has you down, bad weather is a handy excuse for skipping your daily walk. But if there’s a mall nearby, you don’t need to -- the weather’s always perfect inside. There are mall-walking groups, or you can walk with a friend. Keep in mind that, although your buddy may want to go longer or faster, it’s important to stick with a pace that’s right for you. 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’t, you’re working too hard. But if you can sing a song, it's time to pick up the pace a bit.
Stay active at work
Answering e-mail, talking on the phone, sitting in meetings -- desk jobs don't typically entail much movement. To combat this, walk to confer with a colleague rather than sending an IM, stand while on the phone, take the stairs rather than the elevator. You can also do exercises while waiting for a meeting; try wall sits (strengthen your quadriceps by putting your back against the wall and sliding down as if sitting in a chair). You don’t always have to discuss business in a conference room, either. Suggest a “walking meeting” and brainstorm with colleagues while taking a walk. You can always record notes on your cell phone.
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