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I’ve read lots of reports on how bicycling is a highly recommended exercise for people with fibromyalgia. I’ve been looking for more resources, but have yet to find a comprehensive book on bicycling and fibromyalgia. (Let me know if you find one!)

However, I did find two blogs of interest. One is of a woman, Paula Werme, who attempted a ride across the United States. (She knew when her limits were – AND she made 3,360 miles. Impressive progress). Her site is rather “old school,” so you have to scroll down to read newer entries.

Some interesting points:

All of the above said, the biking is getting better. We’re averaging more miles per day, although the totals are creeping up slowly. We didn’t have ANY 45 day miles at the beginning, and now I can do one that includes a major climb. We’ve done 60, but it was tough. Coming into Missoula was the first day we’ve had on the trip with the prevailing winds, the terrain, and the weather all in our favor, and we sailed into town with an average speed well above our other days – over 11 mph. Compared to our first few days where the averages were 5 – 6 mph getting used to the hills, that’s pretty good.

Dateline, August 11. Still in Missoula, after a car trip 600+ round trip miles to Yellowstone. We head out tomorrow for Great Falls, where Ric and Hannah leave and I continue on by myself.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of miles in a car to remember that you have Fibromyalgia! I was a bit creaky on the trip, and still am somewhat, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that walking around Yellowstone was much easier now that I’ve got some leg muscles – so it does pay to exercise….

I get the idea that if I can get comfortable on a seat, I can easily pick up 10 miles a day just from that! The wheat free/dairy free diet is simply not working – can’t consistently get supplies, and my appetite has been for a fair amount of food – also I’m sick to death of hash browns.

Paula Werme’s story has some very interesting insights into bike seats, in fact. I have a feeling that’s something I’m really going to have to look into.

Another interesting blog is by a woman with fibromyalgia who does triathalons. I haven’t read all of her entries, but you can check them out for yourself on the Living *WELL* with Fibromyalgia blog (aka “tri beyond limits”).

Has anyone else explored bicycling with fibromyalgia? I’d love to hear about your experiences, or any resources you may have found.

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It so often seems that the key to Fibromyalgia is balance: balance in eating, in finding the right amount of quality sleep, and perhaps most importantly finding a balance in movement. This has been documented in numerous studies and several blog posts I’ve written.

We know exercise is good for us. The media likes to remind us all the time, and people as influential as First Lady Michelle Obama are putting healthy movement (and healthy eating) at the forefront.

I find that one of the trickiest parts for me is finding the right amount and intensity of exercise. Under-doing exercise leads to weakened muscles, increased pain, and even poor mood. Over-doing exercise often leads to pain flares.

One has to gradually work up to doing greater and greater amounts of exercise. This is true of anyone trying a new exercise routine. If an able-bodied person tries lifting 50 lb weights with no previous experience, they’re going to hurt themselves. When I’ve done very mild weight lifting, my physical therapist has started me off with no weights or even soup cans (a handy 1 lb. h ousehold weight).

The problem is that I want to do things. I was so excited and proud last week because I was wearing my pedometer and I walked almost 10,000 steps – the golden number that everyone says one should aim for. My steps generally vary from 2,000 (on very sedentary days) to 7,500 (on very active days). So this was a Big Deal. (Tip for anyone trying to increase their steps while using a pedometer: lose something. You will walk around a lot trying to find it. Also, go shopping. There’s a lot of walking involved and you hardly notice it.)

Anyway, midway through the day I decided I’d do a little work in the garden. I have some table-top container gardening that I can do that doesn’t over-stretch my back. Did I work on those? Noooo, I decided to re-pot some (terribly potbound) things on the ground. I wasn’t super-careful about how I was lifting things.

The following day was pain. Lots and lots of pain.

It would be easy to let experiences like these scare me off from exercising. Exercise is pain, right? Well, no – too much exercise is pain. Somewhere out there is a magic amount of exercise that is “just right,” a la Goldilocks and the Three Bears. To make it more interesting, the number moves based on how I’m feeling on a particular day and how much exercise I’ve been doing lately.

I know I’m going to make mistakes and overdo it sometimes. There are just days when I seize the moment, and the moment happens to be a little too much. I know there are going to be days when I can’t seem to motivate myself to move out of bed, much less exercise. I can have compassion for myself on these days instead of beating myself up over what I “should” have done.

In between the paradox of too much and too little, I walk.

Hopefully for 10,000 steps.

People always talk about finding positive coping mechanisms, and I always find they’re hardest to remember when you’re not feeling well. It’s helpful to have some sort of plan, as discussed in one of Health Skills’ blog entries on coping strategies.

Perhaps you could say this post is more for my own reference, but here are a few “healthy” coping mechnanisms that I try to keep in my knapsack:

  • Going for a walk
  • Go swimming
  • Creating something – a physical craft, a work of writing, a batch of vegan cookies…you name it
  • Petting my dog. He can always use more belly rubs.
  • Sitting in the garden or some other place outside
  • Light gardening
  • Reading one of my “comfort books” (Pride and Prejudice springs to mind)
  • Meditating
  • Stretching/doing yoga
  • Making a point of eating breakfast and other healthy foods
  • Buying a bouquet of cut flowers, especially if it’s winter and there are none in the garden
  • Planning potential vacations for when I feel better (even if I never actually go, the thought of going to the Caribbean always perks up my mood)
  • Bird-watching
  • Listening to music or a stand-up comedy tape
  • Lighting a candle
  • Talking to friends and others in my support system

Recently life was difficult because life circumstances made it very difficult to utilize a lot of my coping mechanisms. (It’s hard to go for a walk when your foot hurts if you put any weight on it.) That’s when it’s hardest to use those healthy skills, rather than fall back on things like eating lots and lots of chocolate. It’s still a work in progress for me. I’m hoping having a record of this will help with future flare-ups.

I spent some time outside in the 74 degree weather Thursday (that’s roughly 23 celcius). It’s amazing. The birds are out calling to each other, some chickadees are inspecting our bird house, we’re cleaning up the garden after the big snowstorms.

It’s amazing how much the weather affects my mood. It’s just so wonderful to be outside.

I got my hands in the dirt today, as I worked a bit to clear some space for a new vegetable garden. Mostly I was putting old leaves in brown paper bags, and then spreading a bit of compost. I’m trying to work within my body’s limits, but also stretch those boundaries a little bit. I have a feeling my arms may be feeling it tomorrow, even though I did some stretching. It’s a constant quest for balance.

It’s so nice to have something to focus on. It helps my mood – it gives me a purpose and something to work towards. Knowing that there may be a tasty payoff is an extra incentive. Planning the garden is fun, too (although it can be a little overwhelming). What I’m really looking forward to is when I can go, “Hmm, what shall we have for dinner?” and then saunter outside to grab some tomatoes and basil and maybe even some garlic and whip up a quick pasta dish. Mmm…

I suppose you could say that the garden has the potential to be a giant coping mechanism. I know it is for a lot of people. It lets me use my body, I get connected to the earth (both through cultivating it and through getting it all over my hands), it may reduce the number of trips I have to make to the grocery store, I get healthier food…not to mention being good for the environment. All in all, a win-win situation.

This post is the third in a three-part series on exercising with physical limitations.

If you went to public school in the United States in the past couple of decades (or had a child that did), you’re probably familiar with the dreaded physical fitness tests administered every year. Gym teachers administer five fitness tests to determine each student’s fitness level. In front of all their classmates. These tests include: “curl-ups or partial curl-ups, shuttle run, endurance run/walk [‘The mile run’], pull-ups or right angle push-ups, and V-sit or sit and reach.” The students who pass a certain number of tests get awards, and the others sigh in relief because another year has passed.

Those events were hellish for me, although possibly not for every child. I always had trouble with the pull-ups. Since my gym classes tended to be after lunch, the mile-long run/walk usually ended with me clutching my side while walking around the field as my classmates headed off to get drinks of water.

I am not here to talk about those tests.

The same President’s Council on Fitness and Sports created some very helpful programs for adults. (Or maybe it’s just better if you’re an adult, it’s voluntary, and you’re not judged by a jury of your adolescent peers.)

These include the Presidential Champions* and Active Lifestyle programs.

The Active Lifestyle program is a really awesome program that I’ve participated in twice. I’ve found it really good motivation to continue exercising. Your goal: Exercise 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week, for 5 weeks. (You have 8 weeks total for the program, so if you end up missing a week it’s okay.) “Exercise” can be anything outside your normal activity level – walking, doing housework, gardening, swimming, playing Nintendo Wii. It can be low-impact, ease-you-in kinds of exercise, or it can be high-endurance things like weight-lifting. They don’t even have to be 30 consecutive minutes of exercise. Basically, the Active Lifestyle program encourages you to work at your level of fitness.

Many of the fitness resources I have state that keeping an exercise log helps motivate people to continue exercising. (I can’t link them here, because they’re books. Sorry for the lack of an immediate citation!) It’s really satisfying to be able to look over your log and think, “Wow, when I began I could only walk for 10 minutes at a time. Now I’m walking to the park!” The program helped me increase my confidence in my ability to exercise. Even when I’m unable to exercise because of a circumstance outside my control (such as a stomach bug), I know that I can ease back into the program.

Oh, it’s also nice to get a snazzy certificate at the end.

*In case you were wondering, the Presidential Champions program is a more challenging program, in that you input the kind of exercise and length of time you did it, and the program assigns a number of “points” to your total score. When you reach a certain number of points, you get the medal. There is no time limit, although they do limit the amount of points you can get in a day to encourage participants to exercise daily rather than in large bursts. (Yes, Sarah Palin was a recipient of the Gold Presidential Champions medal. That does not mean it’s good or bad, and it did get some publicity about the program out there.)

This post is the second in a three-part series on exercising with physical limitations

Website, website, I’ve got your website right here! There’s a great website about exercise and physical limitations, and it confirms a lot of what I said the other day.

It appears that muscle deconditioning occurs when people with FM neglect exercise in order to avoid pain. Deconditioned muscles use excess energy to accomplish tasks. This may contribute to more fatigue and make the muscles more susceptible to microtrauma, thus aggravating pain with only a low intensity of exertion. This cyclical process leads to atrophy (wasting) and greater effort performing various activities. Exercise can help to counteract this deconditioned state by improving oxygen delivery, increasing cellular metabolism, reducing muscle tightness, and eventually relieving pain to some degree. An important benefit during aerobic exercise is that muscle temperatures rise and this may possibly lead to greater relaxation.

This excerpt is from the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD) website, which includes an entire section on Fibromyalgia. There’s information on types of exercise, how/when to incorporate aerobic exercise/strength training/stretching, and references to books and journal articles.

The website also has sections on a number of other disabilities, ranging from “Acquired Brain Injury” to “Yoga for Individuals with Disabilities.” A full list of conditions and their related sections can be found here.

NCPAD is funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and run by the University of Illinois.

Disclaimer: As with all things, consult with your medical provider or trained professional before starting a new exercise program.

This post is the first of a three-part series on exercising with physical limitations.

When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I froze. Everything hurt, and I was convinced that moving would hurt even more. (In the short term, it can.) I would “over exercise,” and then end up hurting for several days. The less I exercised, the harder it became to do anything.

It didn’t help that my view of exercise to that point was “something that you do to stay in shape but no one actually enjoys.” In general, gyms seemed like giant fishbowls where people watched you torture yourself from the street. Gym clothes were utterly intimidating. Why would I want to do that?

I’ve found – with a lot of help and encouragement from professionals and some loved ones – that exercise can be fun and enjoyable. There are a wealth of reasons to exercise:

  • Feeling able to exercise can boost confidence.
  • Exercising is a great way of getting in touch with your body, which is essential if you’re trying to get into the whole “mind-body” way of life.
  • The more you exercise, the more you find you can do. It’s an “upward spiral” rather than a “downward spiral.”
  • It can be fun to “discover” new things to do as exercise. I recently started swimming again, which is both fun and low impact.
  • One day you will probably be showering and realize that you have new, sleek, firm muscles.

Notice that I’m not even getting into the weight-loss issue here. I’ve found that “exercising for weight loss” is the quickest way for me to lose interest. If I don’t lose weight right away, then it’s disappointing. However, if I’m exercising so that my body will feel better, then I’m likely to see immediate results.

The trick is to take baby steps, as with all things. If I were to try to go for a five mile run, I’d end up sore and swollen and tired and in bed for a few days.

When I first started exercising again after a long period of inactivity, I would go very gradually. Maybe I’d walk to the stop sign near my house and back (about 1 block total, if that). I’d gradually add more and more. It’s the same with any exercises my physical therapist has given me.

Even now, I’m having to re-establish my exercise routine. There was a really bad cold snap, which tends to make walking outside challenging. I’m still trying to find a good “back up plan” for when the weather outside is frightful. Then I got a really bad stomach flu, and was too sick to exercise. Now it’s back to exercising. The good thing is that since I’ve built up those muscles and health routines before, it won’t take me as long to get back to where I was.

Any amount of movement is good. Slowly increasing your activity with something you enjoy is a step towards a healthier lifestyle.

Here are some sample ways to begin: walk, swim, bike, drum, do laundry, vacuum, stretch, canoe, sail, garden, hike, dance, build a table/bookshelf/etc., do yoga, shop, play fetch with your dog, spend any amount of time with a toddler…

Pick something that you enjoy. That is key.

Note: Check with your medical professional before beginning any exercise routine.

My Etsy Store

A fibro-friendly item from my Etsy store

I've been working on making fibro-friendly jewelry. I'd love it if you checked them out by clicking the image above, or going to www.etsy.com/people/RogueCrafter

About Me

This blog is intended as a place for me to reflect on my own healing journey, in the hopes that others may also gain insight from my experiences. I've "borrowed" a line from Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken:

'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.'

I think the most important thing for me now is that I feel empowered to be a force for positive change in my life. And that, my friends, has made all the difference.

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