An exercise program that incorporates walking, strength training and stretching may improve daily function and alleviate symptoms in women with fibromyalgia, according to a new study supported by the Arthritis Foundation. These benefits appear to be enhanced when exercise is combined with education about managing the condition.

Researchers from Harvard’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital randomly placed 207 women taking medication for fibromyalgia to four treatment groups for 16 weeks:  51 performed aerobic and flexibility exercises only; 51 added in strength training; 50 received a self-help course on managing fibromyalgia; and 55 participated in all the exercises and the education course. The exercise groups met twice weekly, gradually increasing the length and intensity of their workouts, with instructions to perform a third day of exercise on their own.

At six-month follow-up, the researchers found, women who participated in all forms of exercise improved their physical function, an effect that was larger in the combined education and exercise group. “Social function, mental health, fatigue, depression and self-efficacy also improved,” the authors write in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

”Our findings suggest the need for inclusion of appropriate exercise and patient education in the treatment of individuals with fibromyalgia.”