The first thing I want to say before continuing with this post is that I understand it cannot and will not apply to everybody. Due to fibro being so different in each person many people will not feel able or well enough to keep fit whilst suffering from the condition. In my case, I find that keeping my fitness levels up not only keeps me healthy in general terms and mentally sane, I would also argue that personally it greatly improves my fibro symptoms.
It is widely believed that overdoing it physcially in any capacity causes flares, and I completely and wholly agree with this theory. I knock myself out for days if I overdo it and it is the worst feeling in the world not being able to make yourself feel better, have more energy or stop the pains. But I also believe that we can create our own thresholds for ‘overdoing it’ and for me exercise and keeping as active as possible has greatly assisted my quality of life and time I can choose to spend being out and about doing the things I love instead of stuck at home.
I have always been avidly into my fitness. I ran for my county as a teenager, was a karate national champion by the age of 20 and more recently had been attending up to 9 hours a week gym classes including Zumba, Body Combat, Pump and Spin. This is something my GP felt had actually stalled diagnosis because effectively I’d been self treating my symptoms potentially for years by keeping exceptionally fit and healthy. Regular exercise releases endorphins which alleviate stress and improve depression, and based on my belief that stress is my main flare trigger, this theory now made perfect sense to me. It was only in April this year when I left the club that my activity reduced dramatically, and suddenly low and behold a whole new range of symptoms started emerging. Its difficult to know whether the reduction in exercise alone exasperated my fibro because other factors such as stress were also at play at the same time, however I have no doubt that it played a major role.
Since my diagnosis I have increased my activity back up and the effects were noticeable within weeks. When I exercise my muscles may hurt more from the repetition work I have done but in a good way – a way that I had been missing when I left the gym that was duly replaced with painful symptoms instead. A personal trainer friend recommended I introduce more strength and resistance training to increase my muscle strength overall and reduce aching ‘of the fibro variety’, so I try to use a bar to lightly squat, lunge and lift with regularly as well as resistance bands to work on my back and shoulders.
A big worry for me when I left the doctors on D-Day was that I am in fact a qualified Zumba instructor and teach a regular weekly class that I love and am fully dedicated to. My instant concern was for that class and whether I was going to be advised that teaching was simply too much for my body to cope with – my class is pretty hardcore… not simply a bit of salsa here and there, think more flat out reggaeton style! How would I react if I was advised not to instruct anymore? Everything I came across online pointed towards not being able to exercise heavily and was fairly negative. I became more and more disheartened and scared that this diagnosis was effectively going to stop me from doing what I love.
The breakthrough for me came from finding another blog by a lady called Suzi who teaches a lot of fitness classes, keeps active and still copes day to day with her symptoms. This discovery gave me the hope I needed, and in all honesty a kick up the backside. Why did I need to change my life because of this diagnosis? I didnt, I’m fully capable (for now) of continuing exactly how I had been and a label wasn’t going to change that. People like Suzi prove it… and there is nothing to stop me proving it too.
I have continued to teach my class week in week out and every morning afterwards I feel more alert, brighter, healthier and overall happier than any other day. The symptoms (especially my ‘creepy crawly skin’) lessen immediately after exercise and I’m able to partake in more activities in the days following. As well as my Zumba class, I picked up running again with a friend during lunch times which has had a similar effect, and attend a dance class weekly to sharpen my skills for teaching as well as spacing out my exercise routine throughout the week.
Of course being fit and healthy has a knock on effect in other areas relating to fibro too. The increased blood flow to your brain and around your body means that cognitive function may improve and your body will be overall less lethargic and tired – I for one feel much more alert and awake in the mornings after I’ve exercised. Increased physical health also means increased stamina and reduced pain and I feel more able to spend days out doing all the normal activities I would have usually, being around family and friends more (which in turn maintains my all important support network) or maybe stay out a bit later for a party or dinner.
I completely get how difficult this can be. There are some days where motivating myself feels like climbing a vertical wall. There are also times when I flake out on a run or a class, but never my teaching. My teaching keeps me grounded and linked to fitness, and I know that once I’ve got myself over that wall I’ll be pleased that I bothered. My next challenge is the Great South Run – a ten mile run in Southsea, Portsmouth, in October 2016. I need to continue proving to both myself and others that fibromyalgia doesn’t always mean you have to give up, despite what popular online belief may suggest. Its fully subjective depending on the severity of your own condition, ability and symptoms and I’m a living example that it may benefit many people to push their limits a little harder and reach a little further.
I have noticed from support pages and notice boards that to many people with fibro this is a taboo suggestion and so I’ll finish where I started: it will not apply to everyone. However from a fellow ‘sufferer’ (God I hate that word) I can see how easy it is to fall into the trap and cycle of being unfit and I feel from personal experience I am now qualified to make the observation of the positive impact exercise could potentially have to many others out there.
- Fitness is specific to you. There is no reason you cannot try to introduce fitness into your life after diagnosis, but if you are not used to it, start slowly and with low impact exercises, such as an Aqua class or walking.
- Talk to your local gym or consult a personal trainer – they will be able to direct you in different directions depending on what muscle groups are problematic.
- Keep an open mind and don’t give up at the first hurdle. It takes a long time to build fitness and even longer with a chronic condition, so stick with it.
- Be realistic with your targets.
- Always consult your doctor before starting something new.