Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Using Graded Exercise to Get More Energy
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You may be thinking, "How can I exercise when I'm so tired I can barely get through the day?" You can do it, as long as you start out very slowly and are careful not to overexert yourself. Most important, it will make you feel better.
Studies show that light aerobic exercise, such as walking, helps people who have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) feel more energetic and less tired.1 Maybe you have avoided exercise because you're afraid it will make you feel worse. But the opposite is true. Total rest leaves your body in worse shape. It can also hurt your self-image by making you feel as if you can't do anything for yourself.
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Graded exercise is exercise that starts out slowly and increases in very small steps. It means you have a plan for your exercise and you stay with it, even when you're having a good day and feel like doing more. Increasing your exercise very slowly lets your body make the changes it needs to cope with activity and exercise. People with chronic fatigue syndrome often have an exercise program designed for them by a health expert called a physiologist who can create a tailor-made plan and carefully watch the person's progress.
For example, you might start by walking, bicycling, or swimming as little as 5 minutes every other day for 2 weeks. If you feel strong enough at the end of 2 weeks, you might add 2 to 5 minutes to your exercise for another 2 weeks, and so on.
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When your doctor talks to you about "graded" exercise, he or she means exercise during which you are supervised and given a grade based on how well you do.
If you have chronic fatigue syndrome, you may have days when you feel pretty good and days when you can barely get out of bed. On your good days, you may decide you can do twice as much. But that may cause a relapse of your symptoms. Those relapses may make you afraid to exercise at all. But if you avoid exercising altogether, your body grows weaker and you are less able to fight off fatigue and illness. People with CFS often feel like they have no control over their bodies, as if they cannot do anything for themselves. By starting a carefully controlled exercise plan, you can begin taking back control.
In combination with good sleep habits and careful scheduling of activities, a gentle, graded exercise program can help you feel better. You must start with very brief activities and gradually increase the frequency, duration, and intensity of exercise as you feel able. This kind of exercise plan can be extremely helpful in relieving and controlling symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Test Your Knowledge
Avoiding all exercise will not help people who have CFS feel better. In fact, it can make them feel worse.
You should work with your doctor to draw up a specific plan for your needs and abilities. But there are things you can do on your own.
Walking is an excellent form of aerobic exercise for people who have chronic fatigue syndrome. Other gentle exercises, such as riding a bicycle or stationary bike or swimming, are also good. You need to find a balance so that you are exercising enough to benefit from it but not exercising so much that you become overtired. Here are some things to consider:
Test Your Knowledge
If you are having a good day and feel more energetic, it's okay to push yourself a little harder than your exercise plan calls for.
Now that you've read this information, you're ready to begin a graded exercise program.
Talk with your health professional
If you have questions, take this information with you when you visit your doctor.
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