A study out of Brazil suggests that swimming can help alleviate the pain of fibromyalgia, which the U.S. Health & Human Services Department/Office of Women’s Health says affects 5 million American adults – approximately 80 percent of whom are female.

For sufferers who find walking exercise to be too painful, the new findings are particularly good news. There is no cure for fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that’s been attributed to overactive nerves,and whose symptoms include pain and stiffness of muscles, tendons and ligaments, as well as acute sensitivity throughout the body. It’s accompanied by fatigue, headaches and sleep disruption, and often depression, according to fibromyalgia experts.

Data from the study, conducted by the Federal University of Sao Paulo, were released in August. The study, whose findings appeared in the journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, involved 75 women aged 18 to 60. They were placed in two groups -- 39 were instructed to swim and 36 to walk. Both groups exercised three times a week for 50 minutes per session. This lasted 12 weeks.

Researchers needed to ascertain the participants' pain intensity before and after the 12 weeks of exercise. Before the study, members of both groups were asked to rate the severity of their pain, from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst. The reported levels were similar: The walking group started out with an intensity of 6.2, while the swimmers said it was 6.4. After the study, the walkers said their pain dropped to 3.6; the swimmers’ pain decreased to 3.1.

Dr. Jamil Natour, professor of rheumatology at the university, released a statement explaining why the researchers took this approach: “Physical exercise is an essential component of any treatment for fibromyalgia, and plenty of studies have demonstrated that low-impact, aerobic exercise offers the most benefits. However, not everyone likes or is able to do the same kind of physical activity, so our group decided to test alternatives.”

As the study showed, the natural buoyancy of water can provide significant relief, which people living with the pain of fibromyalgia seek.