Since 2001, National Women’s Health & Fitness Day has occurred on the last Wednesday in September. This year, it will fall on the 24th of September. National Women’s Health & Fitness Day is organized by the Health Information Resource Center (HIRC). It is put on to encourage women to take an active role in their own health by making good diet and exercise choices.

A healthy diet and regular exercise are important for everyone.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the benefits of diet and exercise include:

  • Weight loss or management
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Reduced risk of some cancers
  • Stronger bones and muscles
  • Improved mood and mental health

Many more diseases and conditions can also be prevented or alleviated through healthy living, too. Diet changes can reduce inflammation and prevent or slow osteoarthritis. Exercise has been touted as the best way to alleviate arthritis pain or preventing Alzheimer’s. The benefits of a healthy diet and exercise know no bounds.

Additionally, diet and exercise can seriously impact the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread, chronic pain and persistent fatigue. Additional symptoms, such as blurred vision, impaired cognitive function, or restless legs syndrome, are also common. The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but the biggest risk factor is gender. It is possible for men to develop fibromyalgia, but the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases reports that between 80% and 90% of people afflicted by fibromyalgia are women.

Additional risk factors for fibromyalgia include injuries, illness, and some diseases. These can all be prevented or reduced by making healthy choices in diet and exercise.

Because of the prevalence of fibromyalgia among women, National Women’s Health & Fitness Day is an excellent opportunity for women with this syndrome to make lifestyle changes that can reduce or alleviate symptoms. Diet and exercise can’t cure all of fibromyalgia’s symptoms, but both–especially exercise–are an important part of an individual’s treatment plan.

As stated by the Fibromyalgia Network:

“Be cautious of healthcare providers who tell you that exercise is the key to treating your fibromyalgia (they are not being realistic), but if done properly, exercise can help you stay fit and maintain a better quality of life. Similarly, a well-planned diet with the right nutritional supplements will help optimize your health.”

Starting a new exercise plan for National Women’s Health & Fitness Day should be done gradually and carefully.

Doing too much intense activity can do more harm than good. Sometimes, people who jump too aggressively into a new exercise regimen may injure themselves or tire quickly and lose interest. Instead, it’s best to start with low-intensity exercises like walking, swimming, stretching, or using an elliptical bike.

For those with fibromyalgia, it’s especially important to approach exercise carefully. New fitness regimens should not be started during symptom flares. Also, it’s a good idea to start with exercise every two or three days at first, to allow the body time to recuperate. At first, exercise might worsen fibromyalgia pain, but after about six weeks, the exercise should instead start to alleviate symptoms.

Many of the same low-intensity exercises are a great place for both sufferers and non-sufferers of fibromyalgia to start. Yoga has also been shown to have serious health benefits, especially for people with fibromyalgia.

Healthy diet choices can have far-reaching benefits.

Good food choices can reduce an individual’s risk for everything from heart disease to cancer. While altering eating patterns might seem like a difficult task, WebMD breaks the job into three easy parts:

  • Try to eat a balanced diet
  • Get variety
  • Use moderation

For example, when planning dinner, don’t simply pile a plate high with pasta. Instead, try to divide the plate into multiple parts and fill each part with something from a different food group. For example, fill half the plate with vegetables (like broccoli or peppers), a fourth of the plate with protein (like chicken or beans), and one fourth of the plate with starch (like pasta or potatoes). A serving of fruit or dairy can be added on the side. Now, instead of nothing but starchy pasta, dinner will cover all the food groups in moderate portions.

Since the exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, it’s not clear exactly which foods can impact fibromyalgia symptoms, but there are a few basic, common-sense guidelines. Caffeine, for instance, can make it difficult to sleep, which could worsen the fatigue that many people with fibromyalgia already suffer from. The excess sodium in MSG, which is a flavor enhancer, can cause fluid retention and swelling and worsen existing pain.

Basically, fibromyalgia sufferers should follow the same healthy diet as anyone else: eat a varied diet of fresh produce, grains, and lean proteins. Some foods, such as fish or vitamin D, might be particularly beneficial for people with fibromyalgia, but it’s best to eat as healthily as possible, pay attention to symptoms, and tweak your diet to favor the foods that seem to have the best results.

On National Women’s Health & Fitness Day, many events will include walks or runs. There may also be demonstrations of exercises, informational workshops, or health screenings. For someone just starting a new exercise regimen or trying to adopt a healthier diet, an event is a great place to gather information, make friends, and get inspired. If there isn’t an event happening locally–or if you’re not able to go–you can still participate in National Women’s Health & Fitness Day by doing something good for yourself, whether it’s going for a walk, swapping a cookie for an apple, or going to your physician for a check-up.

How will you celebrate National Women’s Health & Fitness Day?

Image by Pam loves pie via Flickr

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