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Exercise & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome involves constant exhaustion that isn’t fixed with rest, cognitive struggles, mood and sleep disturbance (depression, anxiety, insomnia). Worsening of all these symptoms lasting days can occur after undertaking activities that used to be done with ease. 


At this present point in time, there is no cure for this condition but instead, there are therapies that assist in reducing it’s severity and improve an individual’s functional ability. Exercise is one type of therapy, but needs to be prescribed appropriately based on the individual’s capacity. 


Symptoms

  • Joint pain
  • Feeling exhausted after sleep
  • Unexplained muscle pain
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck/armpits
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of memory or concentration

Exercise prescription for CFS

Exercise recommendations for CFS are much different than those of the general population. Asking an individual with the condition to attempt a 30 minute jog or spend 60 minutes in the gym can result in even the most functional individuals to crash and bust. The most appropriate type of exercise that has been beneficial for CFS is graded exercise therapy (GET). This kind of therapy starts off with a very low dose of exercise which is then progressed gradually over time. Once an individual establishes a threshold that they can complete without crashing, an increase in duration and intensity is considered and made. 

Example

An individual with CFS has a walking threshold of approximately 10 minutes. An exercise physiologist would then get that individual to attempt walking 10 minutes on 3 days of the week for 2-3 weeks. If the individual could achieve this without crashing, then their exercise duration would be increased by 20% (10 minutes would increase to 12 minutes). This would then continue to increase in the same way until the individual is able to walk 3 times a week on non-consecutive days for 30 minutes at a time. 


The level of GET prescribed will depend from person to person depending on the severity of the condition and how they function. When done right, GET is one of the few therapies that may reduce fatigue and improve functional outcomes for individuals with CFS. 



References

Right, E. (2019, May 14). How to exercise right with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Exercise Right. https://exerciseright.com.au/exercise-right-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-cfs/