Performing moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in regular bouts of at least 10 minutes helped reduce pain, fatigue, and disease severity in fibromyalgia patients. Longer intervals of physical activity were associated with a better symptom profile.
The study, “Association of patterns of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity bouts with pain, physical fatigue and disease severity in women with fibromyalgia: the al-Ándalus project,” was published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Fibromyalgia is a complex disease characterized by symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and stiffness. The symptoms often lead patients to avoid performing physical activities. However, this sedentary state might be counterproductive, as studies have shown that patients who are more physically active tend to have fewer symptoms.
According to the current guidelines, adults should perform at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week in bouts of at least 10 minutes.
However, the health benefits associated with following these guidelines may vary according to the person’s health, and it is not clear whether exercise in bouts is more beneficial to a person’s health or not.
Researchers designed a cross-sectional study to investigate the impact of following the current guidelines for physical activity on symptoms including pain, physical fatigue, and disease severity in women with fibromyalgia. They also assessed whether the effects were related to sedentary time and fitness.
There were 439 women, median age 51.3, diagnosed with fibromyalgia by a rheumatologist, in the study.
The patients wore an accelerometer for seven consecutive days, at least 10 hours a day. The accelerometer recorded sedentary time and moderate to vigorous physical activity. Researchers used a physical test to estimate fitness and different surveys to assess pain, fatigue, and disease severity.
The participants were divided into three groups, according to their physical activities. Those who performed at least 150 minutes per week at intervals of at least 10 minutes (meeting the bouted MVPA activity guidelines), those who performed more than 150 minutes per week with irregular intervals (meeting non-bouted MVPA guidelines), and those who performed less than 150 minutes per week (not meeting the guidelines).
Results showed that “women with fibromyalgia meeting the bouted MVPA activity guidelines presented less pain, physical fatigue, and disease severity than patients meeting non-bouted MVPA guidelines.” Patients meeting non-bouted MVPA guidelines had lower disease severity than patients not meeting the guidelines.
Overall, women with better fitness had fewer symptoms than sedentary women and those who performed more exercise at longer intervals had less pain, fatigue, and disease severity than any other group.
“The maximum time in bouts was the pattern that showed the strongest associations with symptoms, suggesting that [moderate to vigorous physical activity] should be performed in continuous bouts in [fibromyalgia patients],” researchers stated.
This might be because bouted physical activity represents a continuous stimulus that leads to a reorganization of the neural networks related to pain, thus producing a more effective response.
Although performing moderate to vigorous physical activity at regular intervals showed the best results, women performing low physical activity or at irregular intervals still showed better results than sedentary women, so performing any kind of exercise might help improve fibromyalgia symptoms.
“Although causal relationship cannot be determined due to the study design, the results of the present study seem to support the current American College of Sports Medicine PA guidelines (at least 150 min/week of MVPA in bouts ≥ 10 min) in women with fibromyalgia,” the study concluded.