Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition characterised by persistent, medically unexplained fatigue, as well as symptoms such as musculoskeletal pain, sleep disturbance, headaches and impaired concentration and short‐term memory. Estimates of how common CFS is are somewhat rare, but the latest research from the US reports that between 0.2% and 2.0% of people are affected by CFS.1 The symptoms of CFS can cause significant disability and distress for patients, especially as there is no clear medical cause. As a result, patients often deal with a misunderstanding of their condition from family, friends and healthcare professionals.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends exercise therapy (a regimen of physical activity designed and prescribed to relieve or heal a disorder) as a possible treatment for individuals with CFS, and there is an interesting body of research to support this.2 A recent large review by a group of researchers from Norway provide a nice summary of this work.3
They found that:
Of the studies included in the review, the most effective intervention had an exercise program like this:
As the physiology behind the development of CFS is not fully understood, it is unclear which biological effects of exercise actually impact on CFS. Some psychological mechanisms such as distraction from symptoms have been demonstrated to positively influence symptom perception,4 but the effect is likely underpinned by a combination of various physiological and psychological mechanisms.
Of course, if you do wish to begin an exercise program to help with your chronic fatigue, please make sure to contact your doctor first! Also keep in mind the words of Pete McCall, Exercise Physiologist at the American Council on Exercise:
"The most important thing with starting an exercise program to combat fatigue is to establish a regular pattern of exercise.”
However, even if you do not have time in your schedule on a particular day, he recommends finding “activities, such as taking the stairs or parking in the spot farthest away from their destination, to help increase your daily activity levels."
Every little bit of activity adds up.
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