When your muscles are clenched, with some muscles screaming louder than others and you’re so tired that bedtime is all you can think about, exercise isn’t your top priority. But, ironically, light exercise can help with fatigue. It also helps to strengthen the muscles that so desperately ache.
Here are the simple things that help me exercise:
My dog – he needs a walk most days, knowing that’s his favourite time of day encourages me to go.
Knowledge of my body – if I don’t keep it up I slip backward in my progress. In a surprisingly short amount of time, how far I can walk without too much pain in my legs afterward, can decrease.
Willpower – anything I achieve with fibro/CFS takes a lot of willpower. It’d be easier to let myself lie on the couch more often than not, but if I (gently) push myself, while respecting my limits, it’s worth it.
Enjoyment – I enjoy the type of exercise I do, mostly walking and Pilates or yoga, so I want to do it.
My baby – my little buddy likes walking as much as I do. He enjoys watching the new sights and then being lulled to sleep by the motion. Sometimes it is the longest break I get from having to hold him – which helps my back!
I have to remind myself regularly, even if the baby is fussy when we get home, to stretch. Stretching is very important as I think that my muscles are super prone to clenching and getting tight from use.
We all know the recommended steps for being well- eat healthily, exercise moderately and get plenty of sleep. I believe that people with Fibromyalgia need to adhere to the healthy living guidelines, augmented to their ability level, of course. But what happens if no matter what you do, you are exhausted and sore? There’s no escaping it, you have to do the work.
Here’s the five lifestyle choices I make daily to cope with Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue:
1. Healthy eating
Food is fuel, right? Everyone should eat healthily with a diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables and rich in whole grains and protein. When you are battling extreme fatigue and travelling muscle aches, what you eat can be of great help.
In my worst flair ups, my food diary used to become a love song to carbohydrates. I subconsciously craved fuel that my body could turn into energy; unfortunately, all those carbohydrates created the opposite effect. My already exhausted system was battling its way through the simple and complex carbohydrates I was throwing at it every few hours – it had no time to create energy. It took a few days of concentrated effort, but once I replaced a few of these servings with other foods, I began to feel the effects.
For me, eating a moderate diet rich in fruit and vegetables is a good start. Some people swear by Paleo, or Keto or gluten free or some such diet – it’s all worth a try.
Unless your doctor forbids it due to a medical condition, you should be exercising. A person with Fibromyalgia will work at a lower intensity and for a shorter period, but they should still exercise.
The amount of energy I have fluctuates, depending on many things, but I always go for my walk with my dog. Sometimes it is only around a 15-minute block, other times I will go for a course with a decent hill or will walk for a little longer. I have found 25-30 minutes to be ideal for me. I am always treading the fine line between proper muscle exhaustion and pain. This can be hard to monitor with constantly changing goalposts like fatigue and pain levels, but after two years, I have worked up to my current level.
Pilates is my favourite form of resistance exercise. I have done it faithfully for about ten years. Sometimes I operate at a beginner level and other times I can advance the exercises. When I was starting again after a bout of extreme pain, my physiotherapist created a 20-minute programme for me to follow. With my experience, I was able to advance the exercises as my energy levels allowed.
I have found it very important to keep the strength in my muscles with gentle activation. There is a strong correlation between less exercise and more pain.
3. A compassionate, knowledgeable physical practitioner
My physiotherapist is a valuable component of my healthy life. Someone you trust, who knows about Fibromyalgia and can bring about lasting changes with their treatments is vital to coping with long-term pain and fatigue. Someone who can come alongside you and take the burden of your body, even if only for half an hour is great for physical and emotional health.
My physiotherapist is the only person I can speak candidly to about what I have been coping with for the last 7-14 days (depending on how long I can stretch out the periods between treatment). After trying many of the different types of therapies, I have found acupuncture to be (one of) the least invasive and longest-lasting treatment.
Sleep is my hardest battle. A full night’s sleep is the best way to cope with life. I try to go to bed around the same time every night and have a set routine that involves getting ready and reading before I switch off the light. I also try to get up around the same time every day. This helps, but I will not always sleep through the night, I will not always fall asleep straight away and I will often wake up at 4am (or every hour or two) with an incredibly stiff and sore neck. Since I began Low Dose Naltrexone in 2017, I have finally managed to sleep in blocks of more than an hour! I don’t sleep through the night, but I do sleep much better and this has flow on effects.
In order to cope on days when the kids have had me up in the night or the fatigue is just worse, meditation is a go-to. I can’t nap, so meditation is a way to get decent rest when I need it.
5. Aplan for the “hard” days
These are inevitable. Everybody gets sick from time to time. A person with Fibromyalgia will have some harder days. I have found a written list with suggestions for what to do on one of these days to be useful for pulling me out of the downward spiral of panic that accompanies intense pain.
Specific stretches for my neck (tightness in my neck often causes headaches, nausea, dizziness and extreme fatigue)
Things I can do in descending order of ability (a gentle walk, gentle stretches, watch a DVD, read, lie down with an audio book on, lie down and do nothing else)
A reminder of the pain relief options I have at my disposal (wheat pack, icepack, heat cream, Ibuprofen, prescribed pain killers) – you would be surprised at how often I forget these things exist in the grips of serious pain.
All of these ways for coping should be underpinned by hope. Hope that your “hard” days will occur less often. And hope that you will be able to compile a life that is heading towards wellness, rather than just away from sickness. This is what I have experienced over the past two years as I have found more to help, particularly the low dose naltrexone, and it is what I hope for you too.