Exercise Classes Help People with Fibromyalgia
Exercise leads to improvements in mood, ability to function, and overall symptoms in people with fibromyalgia, according to a study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism (2004;51:890–8).
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome characterized by generalized pain and pain at specific points in the neck and back, and sometimes fatigue, depression, and changes in digestive function. Fibromyalgia is typically treated with pain-relieving medications and, increasingly, with antidepressants. The effectiveness of these therapies varies considerably. Several studies have found that exercise has both immediate and lasting benefits for people with fibromyalgia, improving fitness level and reducing pain. Only two studies have looked at the effect of exercise on mood in people with fibromyalgia, with mixed results.
The current study is a follow-up report based on research that previously found exercise training to improve mood and physical functioning in people with fibromyalgia. In the original study, participants were randomly assigned to an exercise group or a nonexercise group. People in the exercise group participated in 30-minute exercise classes three times per week for 23 weeks. The classes consisted of 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, with 5 minutes of stretching at the beginning and end of each class that became more strenuous over time. Mood and physical function were evaluated before and at the end of the program.
The current report used data from the previous study, and added to it by collecting data from 29 of the exercise program participants at 6 and 12 months after the last class. Physical function (measured as a walking distance achieved in six minutes) and mood (measured using a rating scale for depression) improved significantly from the beginning to the end of the classes, and remained improved at 6 and 12 months after the last class. Anxiety levels also improved as a result of the exercise program, and the improvement persisted 6 months after the program was completed. Self-ratings of physical function and mood, as well as generalized symptoms of fibromyalgia, were also better at all three evaluations than before starting exercise classes. Furthermore, 83% of participants reported at 12 months after the last class that they had exercised in the previous two weeks, and as many as 59% reported exercising 90 minutes per week or more. Continuing to exercise was linked to greater improvements in physical function at 6 and 12 months. Mood also improved more in those continuing to exercise at 6 and 12 months, but at 12 months this positive effect of continued exercise did not reach statistical significance.
The results of this study add to the body of evidence showing that exercise is beneficial for people with fibromyalgia. These findings further support the belief that ongoing exercise is important for maintaining improvements in physical function and, to a lesser degree, mood. Finally, observations from this report suggest that people with fibromyalgia who participate in supervised exercise classes are more likely than not to continue to exercise after the classes end. Therefore, recommendations to people with fibromyalgia should include regular exercise and possibly enrolling in an exercise class. More research is needed to clarify whether people who do not continue to exercise will have lasting benefits from participating in a series of supervised classes, and to develop
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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