Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Exercise

Chronic fatigue syndrome exercise.

When chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients try to maintain their previous levels of exercise, they crash -- they discover something called post-exertional malaise. After experiencing this a few times, many people (myself included!) stop exercising completely to avoid these relapses. However, some studies suggest that light aerobic exercise may help people with CFS feel more energetic and less tired. How can you outsmart this chronic fatigue catch 22?

Graded exercise can be adapted for people with chronic fatigue.

What is graded exercise?

Graded exercise is exercise that starts out slowly and increases in very small steps. You have a plan and stick to it, even when you're having a GOOD day and feel like doing more. Increasing your exercise VERY slowly allows your body to make the changes it needs to cope with activity and exercise.

How do I start a graded exercise program?

Always be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program! If your chronic fatigue is severe, it may not be the right time to begin any kind of exercise program. Wait until you begin to improve, and then follow these steps.

Adopt a positive attitude toward exercise. Hopefully, you've already established the habit of pacing. Be assured we will be applying the same principles to our exercise program. Try to put aside your doubts and worries that it will cause a relapse.

Start very slowly. If you have not been very active lately, start with just a few minutes of very gentle exercise, such as stretching. When you are comfortable with stretching exercises, add very short periods (no more than 5 minutes) of a mild aerobic activity.

Increase very gradually. After you know that your body can tolerate this level of exercise over several days, increase the length of your session by only one minute. Again, allow yourself several days to adapt to this new level of exercise. When you are sure that you are tolerating it well, add another minute. Continue, slow and steady, little by little, until you can exercise for 20 to 30 minutes three to four times a week without becoming overtired.

Keys to Success:

Don't push yourself too hard! As with pacing, you never want to discover what your limits are. You can easily become overtired, which will defeat the purpose of exercise.

Schedule exercise time with rest periods, before and after. Fit it into your weekly schedule during quiet days. Do not rush from exercise to shopping to housecleaning to ... you get the picture!

Don't exercise within two hours of bedtime. Exercising just before bed may make it harder to fall asleep.

Take a few days off when you need to. Be aware of your total activity level. There may be periods of time when stress or other physical activities make exercise to difficult. When this happens, take a little time off, and then try to get back into your exercise routine as soon as possible. Don't be afraid to take a step back if you need to.

Keep track of your exercise on a calendar or use a progress chart.

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