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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


Exercise is the most important treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome. The persons who suffer from CFS are almost always in a vicious downward cycle. They are fatigued with muscle pains and they have been getting a great deal of rest. A cycle develops whereby rest leads to muscle wasting, which leads to decreased performance, which leads to pessimism, which leads to disinterest in exercise, which in turn leads to even more rest. Daily exercise can end that downward cycle and replace it with an upward, positive cycle. When a person exercises, a new cycle develops consisting of exercise that leads to muscle enlargement, which leads to increased performance, which leads to optimism, which leads to interest in exercise, which in turn leads to even more exercise. Studies have demonstrated that exercise has anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties. The reason may be a combination of producing endorphins (the pleasure hormone that our brains make when we exercise) and attaining a sense of accomplishment at having reversed the loss of function that befalls people with chronic fatigue syndrome. Of course, exercise is also beneficial for the cardiovascular system. 

Exercise must be started slowly and increased gradually. If a person is generally fatigued and is not in physical fitness, limit the exercise to what can be tolerated. (Make sure that you contact a doctor and determine your exercise readiness. If possible, have a physical therapist develop an exercise program for you. Embarking on a strenuous exercise if you are physically out of condition is dangerous.) Walking, swimming, riding a stationary bike, aerobic exercises from a videotape, or a rowing machine are all good aerobic exercises. Avoid any activity that increases fatigue or any of the other symptoms associated with CFS such as weightlifting, playing basketball etc. Stretching exercises, yoga, qigong, and breathing exercises are especially helpful since they stimulate lymph flow. 

To be effective, a person must exercise every day. Initially, the daily duration could be as little as five minutes, and even less in some cases. Each week the daily duration is increased by several minutes. After a few months, a person can be spending an hour or more per day exercising! Be very gentle with yourself, listen to your body, and increase the intensity of your exercise very gradually. 

Avoid the tendency to overdo exercise on days when he or she is feeling well, followed by an overall decline in performance. Inevitably, after unusually strenuous exercise, there will be severe pain and fatigue the next day, followed by several days of inability to do any exercise. The muscles will then waste away and the person will have actually lost ground by the time he or she is ready to resume exercise. Studies have demonstrated an abnormal perception of muscular activity in chronic fatigue syndrome patients. They may not realize how much exercise they have done or when it is time to quit for the day. If a chronic fatigue syndrome patient is to regain muscle strength, it is necessary to perform a certain amount of exercise each day, recommended by his or her physician. Don't try to overdo it or overdo it. Just do it!

Excerpted from: "A Doctor's Approach to Treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome," by David C. Klonoff, M.D.,from the Book: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

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