Most doctors who specialize in treating chronic fatigue syndrome consider exercise as an important and effective treatment for the problem.
Someone who suffers from CFS are trapped in a downward spiral. The extreme exhaustion and pain they suffer from causes them to avoid exercise and seek to rest as much as possible. However, this encourages a sedentary lifestyle which has several detrimental effects to the body and serves to make their chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms a self fulfilling prophecy.
Decreased physical activity leads to muscle wasting and loss of bone mass…and lower energy. But regular exercise can help stop that downward trend and replace it with a more positive situation.
Exercise has many benefits, many of which help provide therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome.
A regular exercise routine leads to increased performance of all body functions and strengthened muscles. This, in turn, usually leads to a more optimistic outlook. Research shows us that exercise not only helps us feel better in general but also helps combat anxiety and depression more directly. This is probably the result of a combination of the release of endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers) and the sense of fulfillment at being able to improve the body’s functions.
Exercise also helps strengthen the cardiovascular system and improve the body’s natural immune system.
Someone with chronic fatigue syndrome should first consult their doctor to determine if they are fit enough and ready to perform exercise at a strenuous level. To start an exercise program without making sure you are ready for it can be very dangerous. A patient should first get the approval of his/her doctor before attempting any form of strenuous exercise.
Start with gentle exercise routines which can be slowly and gradually increased in intensity and frequency. In extreme cases, a physical therapist can also be hired to develop an exercise program that is custom-fit for the patient and his particular condition.
Some of the better exercise routines for people with chronic fatigue syndrome include rhythmic activities such as swimming, walking, aerobic exercises, rowing machine, and riding a stationary bike. Activities that worsen fatigue and the other symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome should be avoided. These may include weightlifting, playing basketball, etc. Meanwhile, stretching and other relaxation exercises such as yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises and more are helpful in stimulating lymph flow and producing a sense of well-being in the patient without overexertion.
For an exercise program to be effective as therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome, it should become a regular activity. Ideally, a person should exercise daily. When starting an exercise program, the duration and frequency can be as little as five minutes per day or even less. Every week, the duration can be increased by increments of several minutes. The patient can progress from five minutes to a full hour or more of exercise per day within a few months.
The patient must exercise caution at all times to prevent overexertion, which can lead to worsening of the symptoms of chronic fatigue. Overdoing exercise when the patient isn’t feeling well can lead to an overall performance decline. If the patient overexerts himself, this will inevitably result to several days of muscle pain, which necessitates rest. When this happens, the patient might relapse into that downward trend of non-activity and sedentary lifestyle.
Recent studies have revealed that people with chronic fatigue syndrome have a rather distorted perception of muscular activity. They might not be able to determine how much exercise they have already done or when it is time to stop and rest.
If the goal of exercise is to regain muscle strength, it is very important to get the advice and approval of a doctor or specialist before starting on an exercise program.