Walking: My Exercise Choice with ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia

Exercise has been a very controversial topic surrounding ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia over the years and there are many different theories out there from different doctors and experts on whether we should or should not exercise with these conditions.  I have personally found that for my own situation, and in talking and reading about others with ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia, intense aerobic, hard, physical exercise is NOT beneficial and makes our health worse.  It causes our ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia symptoms to worsen and while doctors “claim” we would have more energy from this form of exercise, it actually does the reverse and causes our bodies to go crash (post-exertional malaise).  For Fibromyalgia patients, the extreme exercise can make fatigue worse and the pain and other Fibro symptoms a lot worse also.

It is also true, however, that no exercise at all is not good for our health either, even if we are chronically ill.  We all need some form of activity (when we are able) to keep our bodies healthy otherwise and for our heart health.  A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to many preventable causes of death.  A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to, or be a risk factor for:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Colon cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Osteoporosis
  • Lack of exercise can also cause muscle atrophy and can increase the risk of physical injury. 

It is hard to exercise when dealing with chronic illnesses like ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia because of the severity of our symptoms we deal with.  I have found, however, a way to still get some form of exercise in without causing relapses – most of the time.  I don’t have it down to a perfect science and I probably never will because of how unpredictable ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia are, but I feel that I have learned to judge what my body is telling me pretty well. 

I have found for myself that walking has been very beneficial in my overall physical and even emotional health.  Particularly during this time where I have been struggling with the depression, I have really been embracing getting outside and walking as much as possible because I know how much the sunshine, air, and just being out can help with depression. 

Walking is also an exercise that I have found I can still do even on my days when I am not my best.  If I don’t feel the greatest but I still want to take a walk, I will just walk at a much slower pace and I won’t walk as far, but I still try to get out or get on the treadmill and get the exercise in because I feel it is very important for me.  Now that I have been exercising for about 1 1/2 years, I can tell when my body needs to move and when it is begging for the walks.  I have also found that walking is the one thing that does not aggrevate my Fibromyalgia pain and it has actually been a pain reliever for me in many cases in my legs.  My lower body is where I suffer from most of my Fibromyalgia pain and my legs will ache terribly.  I have found if I take a walk, I will have some relief from the pain so some of mine might be a circulation/inflammation issue as well. 

When I am able to go to the gym, I will walk on the treadmill, ride the stationary bike and I do some of the weight machines and toning machines.  I am not able to do any of the machines that require the hard, physical work because they throw me in a CFS flare almost immediately.  It’s not worth it.  I know what I’m able to do and that’s what I stick with and I’m happy with that.  Each of us has to find our own way with what exercise we are able to do and we have to be happy with that.  I am just grateful I am able to do what I can do because I know it is a lot more than some people with these illnesses.

Walking has also been a great bonding tool for me and my son because it is something that him and I do together after he gets home from school.  We will take a walk, drink our bottles of water, and he will talk to me about his day and it is a really memorable time for both of us.  It’s special for him because it is about the only physical activity I can do with him so he takes advantage of it as often as he can! 

If you are not currently on a walking program, don’t start one without first talking to your doctor and getting approval from him or her first.  My doctor has supported my option to try and walk and exercise as long as I stay within reasonable limits and don’t overdo it.  She believes that trying to find a healthy balance of staying within my physical limits but still getting some form of physical mobility is crucial to keeping me as healthy as possible. 

If your doctor approves you for a walking program, also remember that those of us with CFS & Fibromyalgia can’t start out and walk as fast or as far as a healthy person can so start small.  When I first started walking, I only walked a few minutes and I have now worked up to about 20 – 25 minutes depending on the day.  I also don’t walk every day – I give myself a break because trying to walk every day would probably cause a flare. 

But again, I can’t stress the importance of checking with your physican before starting any kind of regimen and also note that what I have mentioned above is what I have found to work from my own experience.  Everyone has ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia to different degrees.  There are some people with these illnesses who are completely bedridden and can’t even walk to the bathroom.  Naturally, anything like this would be out of the question for them. 

If you are able to get out and enjoy a nice, leisurely walk, enjoy your surroundings, and take in everything you see.  I love to look around, look at the clouds, smell the air – just enjoy being outdoors and thankful that I can walk that day!

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  1. Love this post. One of the best things I’ve done for my fibro and depression is get a trekdesk, which allows me to comfortably use my computer as I walk on the treadmill. I go very slowly; it’s about moving, not about burning calories. I started out at 0.7 mph when I was first getting the hang of typing and so forth. Now I walk 1.5 mph when I’m typing and 2-3 mph when I’m watching videos. I can sustain 1.5 mph for hours, and it has made a huge difference for my well-being and for my sleep. It works better than painkillers.

  2. This is really getting me energized about walking. I need to start and seems to work better than more rigorous exercise. Thanks! ~ Peter

  3. I recently heard PEM referred to as PER: Post Exertional Relapse. However, I love the term my mom calls it and without my knowing has since I first got sick : PEC: Post Exertional Collapse! That so sums it up for me. One minute I’m up and the next, completely collapsed.

    The downside is she assumed all these years that when I got up I was ‘well’ like I was getting different bugs and whatnot. I had to clarify that for her! 😉

    I agree that walking and mild yoga are good until you land in the severe realm of this illness. I am at a point right now in my relapse that 1 step too many causes me to PEC! There just isn’t any extra room or grace to do anything extra than bed, bathroom, getting something to eat or drink.

    I’m in the process of making some serious changes because of this relapse as even talking is now causing the PEC.

    Great post as usual.

  4. I agree with slow paced walking. I have severe Fibromyalgia Syndrome after a car accident. Prior to this I was doing power yoga seven days a week and working out at the gym 4 days a week however I couldn’t get awarded through my accident claim because of the insurance companys demanding it had nothing to do with the car accident. My inability to work was a gradual process over 3 years. The initial symptoms lasted 4 years and today six years after the accident I am completely unable to work which began 2007. Of course I did not know what I had when first diagnosed, no idea I would be walking like a senior citizen at the age of 30, no idea I would never dance the same again. I may be coming to some level of acceptance of my loss of quality of life. I had a beautiful baby during this process and this guy keeps me walking around all day. I also have a set of stairs which are difficult to use but nobody can tell me I’m not getting my excersize everyday. I’m moving around more now than when I was working even with the daily gym and yoga. So if it really helps as they say then maybe I would be in a wheelchair permanantly, though there are still some days I do need one.

  5. Hey greate article. I find that more and more studies are showing the benefits to progressive exercise.
    I think that the most important thing or things that we need to have when going through this disease is patience and balance.
    It is so hard when you have a good day not to push harder and harder and then it is so depressing when you crash afterward.
    I am going to start walking or going on a treadmill or whatever it takes as slow as I need to and as long as I need to until I start feeling better. If I never feel better, well I know a lot of people that have tried the bedrest thing for years and they are just getting worse. That obviously doesn’t work so hopefully this does! Beats taking a crapload of meds that I will probably grow immune to eventually anyway. What do you have to lose!

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