Exercise and Chronic Fatigue

Jun 26, 2014 | by AIF

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also referred to as ME) was once dismissed as “Yuppie Flu”. Often underestimated and not well-known, the condition affects many people at many different stages of life. Studies have been conducted to investigate further into this condition and how it can be relieved. Although there is no specific test to determine if a person is in fact suffering from the chronic disease, symptoms often are standard across the board and your medical practitioner can help to determine if you’re suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Liliana Costa, Coach at the Australian Institute of Fitness SA/NT, explains how exercise can be beneficial to chronic fatigue sufferers, and some guidelines they should follow.

What is Chronic Fatigue?

Chronic fatigue syndrome is an illness characterised by persistent medically unexplained fatigue affecting up to 3% of the population. It’s much more than the average level of fatigue; it presents as an unexplained onset of fatigue, fatigue present for longer than 6 months, fatigue not relieved by rest as well as muscle and joint pain, tender lymph nodes, and sleep disturbances to name a few. Genetic and environmental factors play a role in the syndrome, and more women are affected than men. Memory problems and headaches can also affect sufferers of the disease.

The key symptoms include:

  • Muscular pain and joint pain
  • Poor short-term memory, difficulty concentrating and finding the right words
  • Painful lymph nodes
  • Stomach pain and symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome
  • Sore throat
  • Sleeping problems such as insomnia
  • Sensitivity to light and loud noises
  • Psychological difficulties such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks

How Exercise Can Help

Treatment of chronic fatigue includes a long-term multidisciplinary approach including education, pharmacotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and exercise. Multiple studies have shown that aerobic fitness can reduces fatigue, so it’s important to add this into the treatment. Contrary to belief by sufferers that exercise can exacerbate feelings of fatigue, studies have found that exercise can in fact improve symptoms. However, there needs to be a specific approach to increasing the amount of exercise a person suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome should introduce into their routine.

Training Guidelines for Those with Chronic Fatigue

As exercise can provoke anxiety and increase feelings of vulnerability to pain and fatigue, those with the condition should start an exercise program slowly to avoid post-exercise symptoms. It is a slow and gradual process, but ultimately can lead to a vast improvement in the symptoms of ME.

To introduce Chronic Fatigue sufferers to exercise, be sure to:

  • Begin at a low level and progress gradually
  • A shorter volume is recommended, rather than prolonged bouts
  • Do low to moderate intensity exercise
  • Focus on low impact activities
  • Avoid lifting heavy weights
  • Avoid eccentric training
  • Avoid heart rate exercise as the client may not be able to reach the required level on some days
  • A higher level of motivation is required
  • Planned sessions may need to change to accommodate how the person feels

A person with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome shouldn’t be coaxed or pushed further than their limits within any given session as this could be dangerous and lead to a long-term relapse. The primary aim is to increase activity to avoid decreasing fitness levels and over time, this can lead to an improvement of their condition, which can then allow them to workout for longer periods or workout at a higher intensity.

What kinds of exercises should be performed?

Because the aim is to gradually increase exercise into a person’s daily routine, the exercise shouldn’t be over stimulation or lead to exhaustion. The best thing to do is to listen to your body and understand what you are capable of on any given day. To choose the right activity, some experimentation might be in order. Start by trying some gentle exercises such as light stretching, yoga, tai chi, walking or light weight training. It may take some time to find out works best for you, but this is the best way to determine what will work for you. Always remember to listen to your body and stop exercising before you feel any symptoms start to flare up. Each day may be different and your activity levels may be different every day. A diary of your activities may help you to track your progress in the long run and see where you have improved over time.

The Role of a Personal Trainer

Whilst training clients suffering from chronic fatigue can be challenging for the Personal Trainer, with tremendous levels of patience, understanding, and motivation, they can make a huge impact on the sufferers’ lives. Rather than focusing on making sessions extreme and intense, the Personal Trainer’s role is to guide the client in the promotion of lifelong physical activity and reducing the anxiety of exercise. Having the opportunity to help a client learn to love activities and exercise is a huge benefit for the Personal Trainer as well, and will help them to get to know their clients better.

If you love fitness, become a Personal Trainer (Certificate III and IV in Fitness) at the Australian Institute of Fitness, and get a career you’ll enjoy.



At the Australian Institute of Fitness (AIF), we are no stranger to the competitive and evolving nature of the fitness industry. That’s why we remain the #1 fitness educator since 1979. We continuously raise the bar by providing the best education and resources through dynamic and hybrid training methods that mould to your lifestyle. We are strong believers in evidence over fads, so you can be assured your training with AIF will solidify your career for the long-term.

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