Exercise and Fibromyalgia

Conditions that cause pain in your joints and muscles can lock you into a terrible loop.
Often sufferers are afraid to exercise out of concern that it will worsen their pain.
Unfortunately, the lack of exercise will usually make their condition more difficult to bear.
Fibromyalgia, which affects 5.8 million Americans, is just such an illness.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Although it is not very well understood, fibromyalgia can be a debilitating disorder that is characterized by pain in the muscles and joints, fatigue and cognitive difficulties. The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown but researchers suspect that it is linked to physical or psychological trauma.

The constant dull aching that is associated with fibromyalgia can make it difficult to sleep and is often experienced along with other sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.

Fibromyalgia also commonly occurs alongside depression, anxiety, endometriosis, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.

When you consider the wide range of symptoms that accompany fibromyalgia, it is logical that people enduring it would avoid exercise. But research indicates that a properly designed fitness program could be an effective way of treating the condition.

How Exercise Can Help

One of the major concerns facing patients with fibromyalgia is deconditioning. The lack of activity will gradually make your heart, lungs and muscles function less and less efficiently. This will, in turn, cause greater difficulty in movement and increase the amount of pain in your joints and muscles.

Poor posture, tight muscles and limited range of motion are also byproducts of inactivity. Each of these factors can contribute to pain and difficulty moving.

If you struggle with fibromyalgia, the solution may be to do whatever is in your control to improve your body’s ability to move efficiently. Even light exercise can provide exactly that.

A large study that observed 170 fibromyalgia patients was funded by the National Institutes of Health in 2013 to gain further insight on the effect of exercise on the disorder. Each participant was given an exercise prescription based on their starting fitness level that gradually became more challenging, more frequent and longer over the course of the 3-month study. Throughout the study, and for six months following, they were also asked to fill out several questionnaires.

At the end of the study, it was found that they subjects who stuck to their exercise routine experienced less physical impairment and better overall well-being than those who abandoned their workouts.

One key element appears to be a steady increase in activity, which showed a corresponding decrease in pain. A rapid and short-live burst of activity didn’t produce any benefits.

Of all the participants who increased their activity levels, even beyond the length of the study, no one experienced an increase in pain.

How To Do It

Anyone, whether they have fibromyalgia or not, will experience pain if they jump in to a difficult workout too quickly. Start off gradually and incorporate both strength and endurance training.

Your strength training should consist of light weights so that you can focus on maintaining perfect form throughout the movement. Consider working with a trainer to be sure that your form is correct to help avoid injury.

Aerobic training should be your chief concern and should be performed at least three times per week. Stick to a moderate intensity, where you can comfortably have a conversation, and start at just a few minutes. Gradually increase the duration of your workouts to about 40 minutes.

Each session should begin and end with mobility training. These movements should be done slowly, emphasizing flexibility and a full range of motion.

If you experience flare-ups, when your pain is especially bad, take time off the recover. Pick up your routine again as soon as you feel better.

Do you struggle to stay active despite fibromyalgia? Please share your experience with us in the comments.

Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fibromyalgia/DS00079

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/03/29/increasing-vigorous-exercise-can-improve-fibromyalgia-symptoms/

http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy_living_fit_facts_content.aspx?itemid=2595

Treating Exercise-Related Hypoglycemia

According to diabetes experts, muscles are responsible for about 90 percent of the body’s use of glucose as fuel. Exercise also affects various hormones which have a direct impact on blood sugar levels. It’s not surprising, then, that non-diabetic hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is common in frequent exercisers and athletes.

If you’ve ever worked out on an empty stomach, you’ve probably experienced the dizziness, muscle weakness and exhaustion of a blood-sugar crash. Understanding how your blood-sugar levels are controlled, and what you can do to prevent these crashes, can help you avoid these symptoms.

How Blood Sugar Works

The sugar called glucose, which is stored in the muscles and liver, is the primary fuel your muscles use during strenuous activities. As part of a careful balancing act, two hormones are released to try to maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood, where it can be used readily.

Insulin is released into the blood by the pancreas when blood sugar levels are too high, where it bonds with specialized receptors on the cells. Insulin stimulates the cells at these receptors and tells them to absorb glucose. Once these cells respond to insulin, blood sugar levels drop.

When blood sugar is too low, however, the pancreas releases glucagon instead. This hormone tells the liver to releases some of its stored glucose into the blood so that can be used as fuel.

Exercise puts much higher demands on your muscles, forcing them to utilize more fuel — in much the same way as making your car go faster, or pull a heavy load, will increase how much gas it burns. Overtraining can even cause a permanent shift in this balance by increasing insulin sensitivity, which will make it much more difficult for you to maintain a healthy blood sugar balance.

Keeping Your Balance

Research suggests that endurance training, as opposed to strength training, can be beneficial in preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia. While strength training uses carbohydrates like glucose for fuel, endurance training uses fat as the primary source of energy. This will prevent blood sugar levels from getting too low.

The most effective method for preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia, though, is by adjusting the timing and composition of your meals. Focus on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes, which will give you several types of sugar and dissolve more slowly in your system. Try to have a large, carbohydrate-heavy meal at least three hours before your workout so that you have plenty of stored glucose when you start your exercise.

Throughout the day, eat six small meals and snacks rather than the traditional three large daily meals. These meals and snacks should also be made mostly of complex carbohydrates and proteins. Avoid simple sugars like sodas and baked goods, since these will cause a spike in insulin — a response to the quick release of sugar — which will, in turn, cause your blood sugar to crash.

Drinks like coffee that contain large amounts of caffeine can also cause a crash when the stimulant effects of the drink wear off. The symptoms of this “caffeine crash” can be very similar to hypoglycemia.

Most importantly, discuss your hypoglycemia with your doctor, since it can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as diabetes.

Have you ever experienced exercise-induced hypoglycemia? How have you managed it? Please share your tips in the comments!

Sources

http://diabetes.about.com/od/whatisdiabetes/a/How-Insulin-Works-In-The-Body.htm

http://www.alfediam.org/media/pdf/RevueBrunD&M2-2001.pdf

http://www.drugs.com/cg/non-diabetic-hypoglycemia.html

http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-low-blood.html