Many fibro warriors have told me that they knew they were in trouble when they could no longer get out and move. There is some fundamental understanding that movement is important. The body knows it is looking over the edge of a steep cliff when it is faced with laying down or sitting all day. This intrinsic feeling keeps many people out there still trying exercise and movement even when their body is crippled by pain. One patient, an avid hiking enthusiast before fibromyalgia, still kept hiking until his legs would feel like the bones were on fire and he could barely work his feet right to drive home even after a short hike. All of this because he just knew that to stop would be a bad sign, a sign of his condition worsening, a sign that he could no longer enjoy what was one of his greatest passions in life. It was a tolling of a bell that felt permanent and unfair.
When healthy, it is hard to understand what life is like if the simple pleasure of moving was taken away. It becomes frighteningly easy to dwell on the emotional and physical pain, and shut out the rest of the world. Things that were funny or lighthearted become annoying. Even the simple act of someone offering to help can suddenly feel patronizing.
That gut feeling that moving is good is rooted in fact. Several of the body’s systems rely heavily on movement to properly work. Take the lymphatic system- which plays a huge role in immune function- it is as extensive as the circulatory system, but has no heart to pump it. There are very few things that move lymph on it’s journey up your body, across the back of your neck and shoulders, and back into your subclavular veins, and the primary one is skeletal muscle movement. Yes, that’s right, your movement is the pump for your lymphatic system. The veinous calf pump is another mechanism that assists your heart in pumping blood from your feet back up your body, and it works when you are walking.
One big problem is that when people think of movement, they think of exercise. A cycling class would cripple most fibro warriors. That is not reason to lose hope, though. There are movements and breathing techniques that will still have powerful effects without huge amounts of strain, and many of these can even be modified to do when sitting or laying down, that will keep those systems moving. Tai chi, qigong, certain types of yoga, all of them can have good effects when they are tailored to your condition.
One rule to follow: breathe. Deep breathe, like your lungs are in your belly. Slowly. If you are constantly amped, anxious, have trouble getting to sleep, and feel like an overinflated balloon, sigh slowly as you breathe. In through the nose, and out through the mouth. If you are on the other side of the spectrum, plastered to the floor, feel like you don’t have any gas in your gas tank, breathe in through the mouth and out through the nose more like a yawn.
Second rule: when it comes to exercise, do 40%. Don’t push yourself to the point where you are wrecked and can’t do anything for a few days. Ease into it, and as your energy builds, reinvest 40% of that new energy into more of the movements and breathing that helped you out.
“And it came to pass that AC learned how to reverse the direction of entropy.” -Isaac Aasimov