The why and how of exercising with fibromyalgia

Why exercise for diabetes_(1)

If you or someone you care about has fibromyalgia, you know it can be one of the most frustrating illnesses around.  The symptoms of widespread pain and tenderness (sensitivity to touch) that tends to come and go and move about the body mean you never know what will hurt next.   The fatigue is compounded by sleep problems, which compounds other problems.  The wide range of symptoms effect every aspect of life and can leave you feeling like your body is the enemy.

Exercise is part of the standard recommended treatment, yet this can often lead to even more frustration when it only leads to more pain and fatigue.  Let’s look at why exercise with fibromyalgia so you know how to make exercise work for you.

Since the cause of fibromyalgia is unclear, we can only use exercise to treat the symptoms rather than the root cause of the illness.  Exercise has the most impact on preventing the secondary symptoms of fibromyalgia, the ones caused by living with pain and fatigue.  Let me explain.

The first secondary symptom is the loss of strength, stamina and mobility the comes when movement is limited by pain and fatigue.   This leads to the spiral of inactivity where you move less because of pain and fatigue, which causes you to lose function, which causes you to move less, and so on. This downward spiral continues so it looks like the disease is progressing when in reality it is the direct result of moving less.

So first and foremost, having regular routines for exercise that includes strength, cardio and stretching will help you recover from a flare up by reclaiming what is lost when you were resting.  Equally as important is having a ‘flare up’ routine you can switch to so you can keep moving but adjust the way you move to help with healing.   This duel approach to exercise gives you the ability to use exercise to help your body get what it needs in each stage; one is about rebuilding, one is about recharging.

That leads to the next important factor in fibromyalgia – mindfulness. Mindfulness, paying attention to what is happening in the present moment has been shown to be helpful with fibromyalgia pain.  When combined with exercise, mindfulness helps you stay out of the frustration of comparing your body to what you used to do or think you should do.  The focus on noticing when you are judging, and shifting to curiosity helps you move in the way your body needs to move now.  The most important ingredient of mindfulness is kindness.  Remembering that you are exercising to take care of your body, rather than trying to overcome it.  Mindfulness during exercise is the mindset that keeps you exercising in the way that helps fibromylagia.

Another side effect of fibromyalgia is depression.  Exercise, done in a way that helps your body feel better, will also help your brain function better.  Just ten minutes of exercise releases a natural balance of brain chemicals that raises mood and calms nerves.  Since stress is a trigger for fibro flare ups, using regular exercise to reduce stress in some way every day in your brain and body can help to lower the frustration of the changing symptoms of fibro.

For all of us to function well in daily life, we need strength, stamina and mobility.  There is no one type of exercise that gives you all three of these.  When you have fibromylagia, finding the balance between these three types of exercise is even more important. It helps you avoid doing too much of one kind and straining your body rather than helping it regain function.

  • Stretching: Helps your connective tissue regain some elasticity, reducing pain and stiffness, and helps your lymph system reduce inflammation. Stretching is the foundation of exercise for fibromyalgia because it can help directly improve the symptoms both in a flare up and between flare ups.
  • Strength training: Helps your muscles and bones and metabolism stay strong and counteract the effects of prolonged times of resting during a flare up.  Do strength training in a way that teaches your body to be strong for movements of daily life.  Stay clear of the athletic type strength training that tends to push your body to do more faster. Also stay clear of the  aesthetic fitness style strength training that is more about changing the look of your body (which is mostly myth and marketing based anyway) than the function of your body.
  • Cardio:  Helps keep your stamina up so that you have more energy for every day activities.   Find a kind of cardio that feels good on your joints and allows you to modify the intensity depending on how you are feeling that day.  Doing shorter bouts, like 5-10 minutes, often feels better and still improves stamina.  Starting with one a day and then gradually adding more bouts during the day makes it easier on your body to adapt well without increasing pain.

Lastly, one sure way to put yourself in a flare up is doing too much too soon.  The fact is,  the body can adapt to a 10% increase in exercise a week.  That is not much.  When you have a medical concern like fibromyalgia, the rule is 5% increase per week. That means if you are doing a 10 minute walk, increase by 30 seconds! That is much less than your brain thinks you should, but is the amount your body can do. By working with your body in this way, you help avoid flare ups and can better use exercise to help you manage fibro well.

Bottom line: When you have fibromyalgia, it is extra important to be sure your brain and body are working together.  When you work with your body, listening to it as your best guide, giving it the right balance of rest and movement, exercise can be a great part of your fibro management toolbox.

Keep Moving, Be Well,


  1. Fibromyalgia:
  2. Mindfulness and Fibromyalgia:
  3. Mindful Movement and pain management:  https://med.stanford

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by | June 11, 2019 · 7:14 pm

You are stronger than you know!

Fresh and Organic

When we say you lose strength, you don’t really lose it. It just goes into long term storage. Sort of like the things you don’t use often and store in your attic or basement. Strength training brings your strength back to the level where you can use it every day, to make life easier and allow you to enjoy more activities.

Do strength training to remember you are strong!

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by | June 5, 2019 · 7:24 pm

Why exercise for diabetes?

Why exercise for diabetes_

If you have been told your blood sugar (glucose) is too high, you probably have also been told to exercise.  But why?  Knowing how exercise helps lower blood sugar levels is a key for staying motivated to exercise regularly.  Let’s take a look at the inside story of exercise and blood sugars. 

Sticky Blood: When sugar gets wet, it gets sticky.  One of the biggest problems with having high blood sugars is that sugar makes blood “sticky”.   When sugar is at higher levels in your blood for too long, it is concerning because that “sticky” blood is now traveling to every part of your body.   This is why diabetes puts you at risk for so many different medical issues.  Nearly every part of the body is strained when blood sugars are high; your kidneys, your nerves, your eyes, etc.

Natural blood sugar management: Two of the most important ways your body is designed to move sugar out of your blood after you eat is (1) the movement system (2) the insulin system.  The movement system is meant to be the main system for keeping blood sugar from getting too high. The insulin system is designed to be your back up system, for use when you are not moving.

When you move:

  • your body uses the sugar in your blood to help fuel moving muscles
  • your body is able to use its own insulin more efficiently.  After exercise, your body is more sensitive to its own insulin, making this back up system work better for hours after exercise.

When you don’t move often:

  • your main (movement) system for managing blood sugars is not available
  • your body needs to use the back up (insulin) system to bring sugar into cells to be stored as fat
  • over time your back up (insulin) system gets overused and can ‘wear out’

When you have type II diabetes, your body is resistant to insulin, causing sugar and insulin build up in your blood.   When you move your body, you activate the main natural system for lowing your blood sugar.   Exercise then, temporarily reverses the cause of type II diabetes.

Not all movement is created equal.  However, if you move all day for your job or for child care, your movement system could be counteracted by another system – the stress system.  When you are moving but stressed, your body releases more sugar into your blood.  That means the movement system cannot do its job as effectively.  This is what sets exercise apart from your every day physical activities.  Exercise is when you are moving for the purpose of self-care. When movement reduces, rather than increases stress, it is able to do its job of lower blood sugars. 

Plus, exercise has GREAT side effects. The bonus is, exercise also helps you manage diabetes in other ways too:

  • Think clearly:  Moving your body can help your brain function better, giving you a better mood, focus and ability to make healthy choices
  • Health protection:  Regular exercisers have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke.  When you have diabetes you are at greater risk for health concerns, so the extra protection from exercise comes in very handy.
  • Weight managementExercise (specifically strength training) counteracts the metabolism lowering effect of dieting by keeping your muscles strong and functioning well while losing weight.
  • Improved sleep: When sleep deprived, the stress response in the body is triggered, raising blood sugar and making weight loss more difficult.  Using exercise to improve sleep has a ripple effect to many other parts of your life.
  • Reduce Arthritis pain: stronger muscles around joints can decrease arthritis pain and make moving easier.  Less pain means you can move more and moving more helps keep blood sugar in check.
  • Reduce Back Pain:  The job of the core is to protect the spine from wear and tear. Exercises that teach the core muscles to do their job in a functional way can reduce back pain.  Plus, stretching in a way that helps to improve tolerance of things like bending and lifting and helps the body recover from strains of daily life can reduce back pain flare ups. Again, less pain, more movement, better blood sugar control.
  • Counteracts depression, anxiety, and improves mood and focus:  Exercise, when used properly, has been shown to be very effective as part of a treatment plan for depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other areas of mental health.  Living with a disease like diabetes can be overwhelming at times and can affect mood.  Exercise can help boost your ability to cope with the stress and pressures of having diabetes

Bottom line:  Moving your body, in a way that reduces stress, activates the natural blood sugar management system in your body.  Keep moving to keep this system working for you and your health.

Keep Moving, Be Well,






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by | May 28, 2019 · 8:55 pm

Who can you inspire to move?

Who can you inspire to move_

My whole team is doing the stretches as part of our morning huddle.  We don’t have pain during the day and have more energy at the end of the day!

This week a patient shared with me an inspiring story.

She is a dental hygienist and she would always get pain her her neck and shoulders from being in that position all day long. That pain drained her energy too.  In her first visit, we did some stretches that she could incorporate into her day to see if they help with this energy draining discomfort.

They really worked for her.  So she showed the stretches to her co-workers one day at morning huddle.   Now they all don’t have that pain any more and they have more energy at the end of the day too.  They decided to make it part of their morning routine.

Kudos to you for inspiring others to move and feel better!

Who could you inspire today to keep moving and be well?

Share your story!


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by | May 22, 2019 · 4:44 pm

Why exercise for high blood pressure?

Exercise in the age of distraction(1)

High blood pressure has been called a silent disease because there are often no symptoms. This medical condition could be undetected for years if you don’t have your blood pressure measured regularly.  But what is the big deal about high blood pressure and why is exercise an important part of the treatment?

What is it?  Blood pressure is the pressure of blood on your blood vessel walls.  Two parts of your cardiovascular system effect blood pressure:

1. Your Heart:  The force with which blood is pumped from your heart puts pressure on blood vessel walls.  This varies depending on the strength of your heart as well as if you are moving or still. When you are moving, your heart not only pumps faster, it pumps stronger.     Think of an untied balloon filled with air.  The more air you put in the balloon, the more forcefully it will fly around the room when you let it go.   The more of your body that is moving, the more blood that is circulated back to the heart and pumped out again.  The more blood that fills the heart with each beat,  the more forcefully it contracts, the more pressure that blood puts on the blood vessel walls.

2. Your blood vessels:  Blood vessels can tighten and relax to help control where blood is sent in your body.   When you move,  blood vessels relax, especially in moving muscles to allow for more blood flow to bring  oxygen and fuel to moving muscles. In fact, when you exercise your body releases Nitric Oxide. This chemical helps blood vessels relax to compensate for the higher pressure from the stronger heart beat (described above).  This way your blood pressure does not go as high when you exercise.

Your blood pressure goes up during times of stress because the blood vessels are more stiff than elastic when you are stressed.  This causes higher pressure on the walls of your blood vessels. Over time this pressure on the walls can wear down the smooth, slippery lining in your blood vessels, increasing the chances plaque with stick to the walls.  This process is called atherosclerosis and is what can lead to heart attack or stroke.

When you exercise  your blood pressure goes up, but it is because your heart is pumping stronger (and getting stronger in the process), while your blood vessels are relaxing.  This raise in your blood pressure does not cause the wear and tear on your vessel walls because at the same time the walls are more elastic, not stiff like when you are under stress.  This combination helps prevent, rather than lead to the build up of ‘stuff’ on the walls of your blood vessels.

That’s in part because the effects of the Nitric Oxide lasts for up to 22 hours after one single bout of exercise!  Long after you stop exercising, your blood vessels stay a bit more relaxed. This helps to reduce the wearing down of your artery walls because your blood vessels are more relaxed, helping you manage high blood pressure for a whole day after one single bout of exercise.

Bonus: Exercise also helps to reduce the fats and sugars that are in your blood that could stick to vessel walls.  More on that in another blog.

When it comes to your blood pressure though, exercise is one of the great ways to keep your blood pressure lower and reduce the effects of high blood pressure, naturally.

Keep Moving, Be Well,


by | May 15, 2019 · 7:14 pm

Exercise in the age of distraction

Exercise in the age of distraction

There is no denying we are living in an age of distraction.  So many ‘bright and shiny’ things to capture our brains attention, its a amazing we get anything done.  It takes extra brain energy to shift attention, and when your brain has to do it all day long, it can really drain your energy and dampen your ability to get things done.

You probably have heard the term Executive Function. It is a way to describe how your brain helps you get things done.  If your energy and time are limited by your life, or a medical issue or a medication, boosting your executive function could make life a bit easier.

There are mixed results on the various methods for improving executive function.  There is however,  one research-backed method that seems to work with great consistently in people of all ages.   Yes, you guessed it, exercise!

 “ample evidence indicates that regular engagement in aerobic exercise can provide a simple means for healthy people to optimize a range of executive functions.”

What do you notice about how exercise helps your brain function?  If you are a regular exerciser, you may not notice any benefits until you don’t exercise and you feel a bit more distractable and less effective.  If you have not yet found that exercise helps your brain, here are three things to consider that may help:

  • Aerobic exercise (AKA Cardio):  This is when you move continuously using a majority of your muscles (IE: Walking, dancing, swimming, seated aerobics, biking) at a level that your breathing is moderate to a comfortable challenge.  Studies show as little as 10-15 minutes of cardio can improve executive function.
  • Use it as a tool:   Studies show the brain benefits are immediate; the brain functions better after one bout of aerobic exercise.  Exercise can be a tool for functioning better each day.  It can also be a way to ensure you are at the top of your game before a test, important meeting, or doing any task requiring focus and organization. Try a 10 minute bout of aerobic exercise before reaching food or caffeine when your energy is low and see if it works just as well (or even better?)
  • Your enjoyable time-out:   If exercise is stress-producing, it will not have as much brain (or health) benefit as when it is stress-reducing.  Exercise is your time-out from the strains of everyday life.  Make it enjoyable and your brain (and body) will thank you for it.

In this age of distraction, how can you make exercise one of your best tools to help make the most of every day?  Be your own investigator. Try different types and timing of exercise to see what works best for your brain.

Keep moving, be well,



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by | May 7, 2019 · 4:57 pm

Exercise can be easier than physical activity

how to lose ten pounds of gym guilt(3).png


Does that title make you scratch your head? Keep reading and it will become clear (and may change the way you think about exercise)

What comes to mind when you think of the word exercise?

Is it pain, discomfort, fatigue, time, ugh!?

The word exercise has come to be known as something that challenges your body, and this is partly true.  But we often think a challenge has to be painful, uncomfortable, or sweaty to be beneficial.  The ‘no pain no gain’ saying has been so connected to exercised for so long that we often say things like ‘I felt a good sore’.  We often discount something as ‘not counting’ because it does not cause a sweat, burn lots of calories or get your heart rate up.

The word exercise can have so much ‘baggage’ that there is a trend to use the words physical activity or movement instead of exercise.  This works because studies have certainly shown that some movement is way better than nothing when it comes to the healthy benefits of moving your body.

But what are we missing out on when we choose loosen the meaning of the word exercise?

Physical activity is any bodily movement.  It includes all of the movements you do for daily life; cleaning, yard work, job-related, child care, elder care, walking to get somewhere.. and exercise.

Exercise is movement done for the specific purpose of improving a skill or ability in your body (or your brain).  When you are doing anything to improve a skill or ability it takes more planning and attention.  When you do that activity on a regular basis, it will get easier.  This process is true for learning how to knit, speak a foreign language, or play a video game.   Its true for physical activities and movements you want to be easier too.

So exercise is when you do a physical activity in a specific way to make it easier.

Most physical activities are moving to get something done, to take care of something or someone.  Some can be very difficult for your body. Some can be very easy for your body. Some you do every day. Some you only do once a year.  But most are not done for the purpose other than taking care of your body, they are to get something done.

When you exercise, the way you move and how challenging it is for your body is up to you.

When you do a physical activity, the way you move and how challenging it depends on the task you are trying to get done.

Exercise then, can be easier for your body and your mind than some of the physical activities you need to do for your life.

So, I propose keeping physical activity and exercise separate. Why? Because exercise is for self-care.  When we call physical activity exercise, we miss that part of it.  And who could not use more self-care these days?

This week, ask yourself:  How can I protect my exercise time and keep it about self-care?

Keep Moving, Be Well,


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by | May 1, 2019 · 3:14 pm