We all know that exercise is a key part of the toolkit to help us manage fibromyalgia, but it can be hard to know which types of exercise might be the most effective in helping with pain reduction and quality of life more generally. Amongst the NHS recommendations for fibromyalgia self-help is swimming, along with walking and cycling1. However, until a 2016 study2 sponsored by the Federal University of São Paulo (Brazil), swimming as an exercise choice for those diagnosed with fibromyalgia had never been scientifically evaluated.
The study took the form of a randomized controlled trial with 75 female participants whose ages ranged from 18 to 60 years old. Participants were randomly allocated to either a walking group or a swim training group. The swim training programme consisted of swimming freestyle for 50 minutes 3 times per week for the duration of the 12 week trial. The session duration and frequency of walking programme, which took place outdoors, was the same.
The participants from both programmes were evaluated before, during and at the completion of the programme using a variety of targeted questionnaires. Patients in both the walking and the swimming groups showed a decrease in pain and improvements in both functional capacity and quality of life after participation in the programme.
The study’s conclusion was that for fibromyalgia patients, swimming, just like walking, can be a successful way to achieve pain reduction whilst simultaneously improving functional capacity and quality of life.
In addition to the benefits of swimming specifically for fibromyalgia patients, highlighted by the Brazilian study, an independent 2017 survey, commissioned by Swim England3 underlined wider physical health benefits of regular swimming including:
- Improved heart health and lung capacity
- Lowered blood pressure
- Reduced joint pain
- Increased bone strength
If the physical benefits of swimming weren’t enough, then there is also evidence to suggest that our mental health can be improved by a swim. The results of a YouGov poll published in 20184 showed that 1.4 million British adults with mental health problems felt that regular swimming had reduced their symptoms of anxiety and / or depression.
Here in the UK, most of us live within fairly easy reach of a public pool, so swimming can be easy to get into and doesn’t cost too much either. You can swim at your own pace, take lessons, join a class or even sign up to take part in a charity swim challenge. If you are looking to add an extra element into your fibromyalgia management toolkit, then it might be well worth taking the plunge.