If you're one of the 6 million Americans suffering from fibromyalgia — a chronic-pain syndrome that affects 3.5 percent of women — pounding the pavement could help. A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that women whose regimens included moderate strength training, aerobics, and flexibility exercises experienced an overall improvement in their fibromyalgia after four months.
“Previously, no one had studied particular programs that would be easy for clinicians to prescribe,” says Daniel S. Rooks, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston and lead author of the study. “We set out to test the benefits of easy exercise — things that people who don't live near a pool or belong to a gym can do.”
Though the study tracked only 135 women, the findings were significant because they were the first to show that a simple, specific exercise routine can help ease fibromyalgia symptoms, which range from general muscle aches to fatigue and insomnia. Traditional therapies include antidepressants and pain medication, but what causes the syndrome is up for debate — inadequate sleep, physical trauma, emotional health, and bacterial infection all may play a role.
“The biggest problem is that people know they should be physically active but they don't know what to do,” says Rooks. “Start with 10 minutes of walking and gentle stretching every day, and add a minute each week.” For a schedule of exercise courses offered by your local Arthritis Foundation chapter, visit www.arthritis.org.