Roughly five million people in the United States suffer from fibromyalgia which is a chronic disease characterized by extensive pain and stiffness in the muscles, precise tender points on the body, trouble sleeping, intense fatigue, and depression. While the constant ache and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia can impact daily life, there are no detectable findings on x-rays or lab tests.
There are many theories as to what triggers fibromyalgia, but researchers have yet to pinpoint one specific cause. Some believe it can be induced by chronic stress or a traumatic event, but others blame a hormonal or chemical imbalance which disrupts the way the body perceives pain. Family history and the presence of a rheumatic disease are other suspected risk factors.
It has been suggested that obesity might be a contributing factor in the onset of fibromyalgia, but it has yet to be determined whether obesity is a cause or an effect of the disease. The bottom line however, is that excessive weight exacerbates the symptoms of fibromyalgia – it puts more strain on the body, it can lead to sleep apnea which disrupts sleep and causes fatigue, and it can inhibit exercise resulting in reduced strength and flexibility.
According to a study at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, it was found that obesity increased the risk for developing fibromyalgia and exercise reduced the risk. The research was based on the Nord-Trondelag Health Study, which collected data for 15,990 women from 1984 to 1986 and again from 1995 to 1997. During the eleven year span in between the surveys, 380 new cases of fibromyalgia were reported among the participants.
Published in Arthritis Care & Research, the study found that obesity was a strong and independent risk factor in the development of fibromyalgia. Also, the combination of obesity and inactivity created more risk than obesity alone.
A body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher was associated with a 60-70% greater risk of developing fibromyalgia than a BMI of less than 25. An individual with a BMI greater than 25 is considered overweight. If the BMI is over 30, the individual is deemed obese, and a BMI over 40 indicates severe obesity.
It has been shown in prior research that people with fibromyalgia who exercise are healthier than those with the disease who do not exercise. In addition, the Norwegian study found that women who exercised at least four times per week reduced their risk of developing fibromyalgia by 29 percent. When assessing information on frequency, duration and intensity of exercise, the fibromyalgia risk for women with the highest exercise level were found to be significantly lower than women who reported inactivity.
This important study verifies that there is a link between exercise, obesity and the development of fibromyalgia. Overall, it confirms what many may have already suspected: a lifestyle which includes regular exercise, a healthy diet and watching one’s weight leads to a healthier, happier individual.