The Connections Amongst Lack of Exercise, Obesity and Fibromyalgia

There have been many theories put forth as to what causes fibromyalgia. These theories range from prior trauma, certain illnesses and diseases, a spontaneous happenstance, a nervous system malfunction or heredity. No one has been able to point definitively to a certain condition or illness as being the cause of fibromyalgia. A recent Norwegian study, published in May in Arthritis Care and Research, points to two new potential causative agents in the development of this disabling condition- lack of exercise and weight (or more specifically, BMI).

The Norwegian researchers, working from previous studies that showed that physical exercise leads to less pain and stiffness in the joints of women studied, postulated that there is an association between lack of exercise and the development of fibromyalgia, and also that being overweight or obese increases your likelihood of developing fibromyalgia. How did they go about testing their theory?

The researchers followed 15,990 women for 11 years, documenting relevant information. In this interim period, 380 new diagnoses of fibromyalgia were reported. Information was gathered at two points, in 1984 and again in 1995. The results may surprise you.

Women who admitted exercising at least 4 times per week had almost a 30% less risk of developing fibromyalgia when they were compared with women who did not exercise regularly. In addition, women who were considered overweight or obese had a higher risk of developing fibromyalgia. Obesity was considered a separate and independent factor from inactivity, therefore women who were obese and did not exercise had the highest risk of all of developing fibromyalgia. The researchers concluded that regular exercise may provide a “buffer” against the development of the condition.

As there seems to be a familial component to fibromyalgia (children of parents who have fibromyalgia seem to be more at risk for developing the condition), this research is good news. It means that encouraging your children to engage in regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight might mitigate their chances of developing fibromyalgia. For people already suffering from fibromyalgia, regular exercise and avoiding obesity may lessen symptoms such as joint pain, although there is no indication that doing either of these things will “cure” fibromyalgia. At the very least, you’ll feel better, both mentally and physically.

Source: "Association Between Physical Exercise, Body Mass Index, and Rise of Fibromyalgia: Longitudinal Data From the Norwegian Nord-Trøndelag Health Study." Paul J. Mork, Ottar Vasseljen, and Tom I.L. Nilsen.


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Fibromyalgia is a prevalent condition that affects many people in the United States. Approximately 3.7 million Americans have Fibromyalgia. That is 1 in every 73 people.

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