Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Exercise Physiology

Can you imagine feeling tired all the time? Fatigued, and sleeping doesn’t improve your symptoms. Exercise may be the last thing you want to do, however research shows that exercise can have significant benefits for people living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

What is CFS?

CFS is a debilitating medical condition characterised by persistent fatigue, which cannot be explained by any other known medical condition.  The cause of CFS is still largely unclear, however research indicates that multiple factors may be simultaneously involved. This may include genetic predisposition, viral and bacterial infection, and immune dysfunction, to name a few. 

What are the common symptoms of CFS?

CFS is primarily characterised by debilitating fatigue lasting for 6 or more consecutive months, but can also include the following symptoms:

-      Post-exertion malaise

-      Un-refreshing sleep

-      Impairment in concentration and short term memory

-      Muscle pain (commonly known as myalgia)

-      Joint pain (commonly known as arthralgia)

-      Headaches

-      Sore throat

CFS symptoms are highly individualised and may fluctuate from mild to severe on a daily or hourly basis. While there is no known cause, or cure, for CFS, research has shown that exercise is one beneficial treatment modality. 

How can exercise help with CFS?  

Often, people with CFS avoid engaging in exercise, as they believe this will aggravate their symptoms. However, this avoidance of activity often results in deconditioning, causing a reduction in both cardiovascular and muscular fitness. Additionally, people who become inactive due to CFS are also more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. 

Research has shown that engaging in physical activity and exercise can have numerous benefits for CFS. This includes improvements in fatigue levels, increased physical functioning and improved quality of life.  Research has also shown that exercise is effective in improving sleep, and psychosocial functioning in people with CFS.  

How can an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) help me manage by CFS symptoms? 

The type of exercise that is most beneficial for CFS is called ‘Graded Exercise Therapy’. Graded Exercise Therapy is a process that involves identifying a baseline level of activity that can be completed without a worsening of symptoms. Once this baseline has been identified, the activity duration is progressively increased, followed by an increase in intensity. Exercise will initially begin at a low intensity, and may include gentle movements such as walking, stretching and strengthening exercises. 

The baseline level of activity, and rate of progression, will differ significantly for all individuals with CFS, and your accredited exercise physiologist will assist you in identifying what exercise is best for you.  


I have CFS, now what?

Physical activity is just one piece of the puzzle in the management of CFS, and the team at PACE Health Management is ready to help you. With the help of an accredited exercise physiologist, a graded exercise program individualised to your symptoms can be developed. For additional information, or to book an appointment, please contact one of our accredited physiologists. 



 Moore, G, Durstine, L, & Painter, P 2016, ACSM’s Exercise Management for Persons With Chronic Diseases and Disabilities, Human Kinetics, Lower Mitcham, South Australia. 

Larum, I, Brurberg, KG, Odgaard-Jensen, J, & Price JR 2017, ‘Exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome (Review)’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, no. 4, doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003200.pub7.

White, PD, Goldsmith, KA, Johnson, AL, Potts, L, Walwn, R, DeCearse JC, Baber, HL, Burgess, M, Clark, LV, Cox, DL, Bavinton, J, Angus, BJ, Murphy, G, Murphy, M, O’Dowd, H, Wilks, D, McCrone, P, Chalder, T, & Sharpe, M 2011, ‘Comparison of adaptive pacing therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, graded exercise therapy, and specialist medical care for chronic fatigue syndrome (PACE): a randomised trial’, The Lancet, vol. 377, no. 9768, pp. B23-B36. 



Mark Simpson