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Aerobic exercise improves fibromyalgia, says new Cochrane review

Aerobic exercise improves quality of life and can lessen pain, fatigue and stiffness in adults with fibromyalgia, according to a Cochrane Review.

Authors of the gold-standard review looked at 13 studies (839 people). Most of these (61.5%) included only female participants where the average age was 41 years. Most participants were not doing exercise before starting the study.

Aerobic interventions were compared with controls over six to 24 weeks. On average, exercise sessions were provided two to three times per week for 35 minutes each session. Exercises involved walking, cycling, running, low-impact aerobics and aquacise.

The authors looked at the key results at the end of treatment.

‘Moderate-quality evidence revealed that aerobic exercise improved HRQL, and low-quality evidence showed improvement in physical function and decreased pain, fatigue, and stiffness compared with control,’ said the authors.

They concluded: ‘Evidence shows that aerobic exercise may improve HRQL, pain, stiffness, and physical function.’

The best estimates of what happened in people with fibromyalgia when they did aerobic exercise compared with when they received control interventions included:

  • HRQL (health-related quality of life) after 12 to 24 weeks: 7% better
  • Pain after 6 to 24 weeks: 11% better
  • Fatigue after 14 to 24 weeks: 6% better
  • Stiffness after 16 weeks: 8% better
  • Physical function after 8 to 24 weeks: 10% better

Four studies explored long-term effects at 24 to 208 weeks after the intervention ended. They reported benefits for pain and physical function among exercisers and noted no other effects.

However, the authors pointed out that long-term effects of aerobic exercise may include ‘little or no difference in pain, physical function, and all-cause withdrawal, and we are uncertain about long-term effects on remaining outcomes’.



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