Health Watch: Exercise and fibromyalgia

There is more evidence that exercise can improve both the mood and physical function of people with fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as fatigue and multiple tender points.

Many studies have concluded that exercise can be helpful to sufferers of fibromyalgia. However, few researchers have studied the continued effects of physical activity beyond the conclusion of the trial periods.

Now, according to an article published in Arthritis and Rheumatism, there are indications that significant improvements can be seen in patients for at least one year after a controlled exercise program has ended.

The study began with a randomized controlled trial of the effects of aerobic exercise during a 23-week period.

Thirty-seven participants took part in 30-minute exercise classes three times a week. Once the classes ended, researchers had no contact with the subjects, except for follow-up testing conducted six and 12 months later.

Both six-minute walk tests and Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) scores were improved significantly at the end of the 23-week class.

More surprisingly, the improvements also were seen at the six- and 12-month follow-ups.

The study authors note that the improvements in the six-minute walk distances most likely were because the participants continued with exercise programs. After all, most gains made from cardiovascular fitness are lost within four weeks if the activity is stopped. In this study, 50 percent of the participants still were exercising more than 90 minutes a week at the 12-month follow-up.

The relationship between exercise and mood was not as clear.

Although mood improvements at both the six- and 12-month follow-ups were similar, only the six-month follow-ups could be related to the duration of exercise. The researchers said it is possible that ongoing exercise might not be necessary to maintain the increase in positive moods.

One reason might be that after participants became less depressed, they resumed other social activities that kept their moods elevated.

Even though this study was based on a small clinical sample, the authors argued that their work provided more compelling evidence that exercise is very beneficial to individuals with fibromyalgia.

Continued exercise not only improves physical strength and function but may also play a role in elevating depression.

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