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People who suffer from chronic fatigue don’t just “feel tired”. Chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, is a crippling disease characterized by extreme fatigue that can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition. The worst part of it? The symptoms are exhausting, and rest does not bring improvement.

To counteract this chronic fatigue, doctors have been prescribing exercise as a cure. However, research has shown that it can make you much sicker if it’s not done properly.

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

  • Extreme Fatigue

  • Loss of Memory

  • Loss of Concentration

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  • Sore Throat

  • Enlarged Lymph Nodes in the Neck or Armpit

  • Muscle of Joint Pain

  • Headaches

  • Unrefreshing Sleep

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  • Extreme Exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exertion[1]

The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is currently unknown. There is no cure for it and treatment typically focus’ on symptom relief. A common form of treatment for those living with CFS is cognitive training. The act of speaking with a counselor can help to allow the patient to feel in control of his or her life.

While communication has been known to be therapeutic for many people, the same cannot be said for all forms of exercise. In fact, if not monitored closely it is now proven to be detrimental to patients and actually make them sicker.

The Truth About Exercise

For years doctors have been prescribing exercise as a form of treatment, despite the fact that some types of exercise can cause pain in patients, choosing instead to believe that the pain was purely psychological.

The belief that exercise can work as a treatment for those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome began in 1989 with a controversial paper recommending cognitive behavior therapy and an increase in exercise[2].

Since then, much has been discovered about CFS, including the detriment that traditional forms of exercise can have in treatment.

“That you can exercise your way out of this illness,” says Dr. Nancy Klimas of Nova Southeastern University in Miami, “that’s just not true. You can exercise, but you have to be extremely cautious. And it will not cure you.”[3]

Biologist Maureen Hanson, who studies ME/CFS at Cornell University, adds “anaerobic exercise seems to cause the most problems. When your body doesn’t have enough oxygen to support exercise, lactic acid starts to build up in muscles.”[3]

So, if you’re thinking of hitting the gym to relieve your CFS symptoms, it might be best to skip the treadmill and opt-in for safer methods of relief.

Exercise is important for all humans to partake in, even those with chronic fatigue syndrome. Our muscles need to be exercised to prevent deconditioning. But there is a right way of doing it, and a wrong way. Exercising the wrong way will aggravate your already sensitive system, but exercising in the right way can help you to feel more energized.

A Gentler Approach to Dealing With Fatigue

Keep a movement journal

Keeping an active diary of your movement routine and how you were feeling (the good and the bad) will give you a long-term look at your performance levels which can influence your health. Keeping all of this information in one place will also give you a precise point of reference during your meetings with your doctor.

Every physical activity counts as exercise

Exercise doesn’t have to mean going to the gym to lift weights. Something as simple as going to the grocery store or putting on your clothes can be mentally and physically straining. Don’t feel as though you need to push yourself to exercise more than this if that is where your body is at. Every movement counts.

Start with safe movements

Don’t over exert yourself. It’s okay if your movement routine is just a couple of minutes every day. Start with movements that feel comfortable for your body. Your body will feel different everyday, so be aware of how you are feeling and adjust your routine to accommodate. Restorative yoga and Tai Chi are safe ways of stretching and strengthening the muscles of your body.

Alternate physical time and rest time

It may be a good idea to alternate physical days and rest days. That doesn’t mean you need to up the exercise on your physical days because you know that a rest is coming. Instead, try walking for 5 minutes, then resting for 10 minutes. In this way, you’ll be able to increase the amount of movement that you receive.

Each individual case of chronic fatigue syndrome is unique, so there is no blanket exercise routine that any person should follow. Do what works well for your own body, and keep your doctors notified of any changes, negative or positive, to ensure that you’re on the right track. Chronic fatigue syndrome is something that you will have your entire life, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to control your life. Concentrate on doing things that feel good for you and your body, and you’ll be on the right track to living peacefully with your disease.

Sources:

[1] Mayo Clinic Staff. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Retrieved on October 11, 2017 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360490

[2] SIMON WESSELY ANTHONY DAVID SUE BUTLER TRUDIE CHALDER. (January 1989). Management of Chronic (Post-Viral) Fatigue Syndrome. Retrieved on October 11, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1711569/pdf/jroyalcgprac00001-0034.pdf

[3] MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF. (October 2, 2017). For People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, More Exercise Isn’t Better. Retrieved on October 11, 2017 from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/10/02/554369327/for-people-with-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-more-exercise-isnt-better?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=202702

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