Can you still Exercise with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Imagine being really tired all the time, like really tired. So tired that a 30-minute walk could end up leaving you in bed to recover for up to three days after.
1-2% of Australians are diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and experience this.
For this population, exercise seems like the very last thing they would want to do but for patients diagnosed with CFS, exercise is proven to be one of the most effective interventions. CFS is characterised by having long-lasting fatigue, pain, headaches, problems with sleep, poor concentration and difficulties with memory. There is currently no cure but there are treatments proven to assist in reducing the severity of symptoms and helping with day-to-day functionality.

Exercise prescription is different for patients with CFS when compared to the general population, so it is important to work with the individual rather than the norms or recommendations. Graded exercise therapy (GET) is a technique that involves starting exercise at a low dose to assess the body’s response and gradually progressing. We want to establish a threshold that we know our patient can complete without overexerting and “crashing”. This threshold may be walking for 10 minutes, so we would encourage walking for 10 minutes three times a week on non-consecutive days. If this patient can complete this for 3-4 weeks without having negative symptoms, we can then increase the intensity by 20% (i.e. 12 minutes of walking per week for 3-4 weeks). In combination with light resistance training using body weight or light free-weights, we will see an increase in overall strength, aerobic endurance and muscle size. This prescription would gradually increase like so until the patient can complete more and more of their daily activities without crashing and fatiguing.

Chronic fatigue will present differently with each person, so it will take some trial and error to work out what is best for the individual. For example, it could be swimming, cycling, walking or jogging. Some patients enjoy walking for 10 minutes, resting to read a book, then walking for 10 minutes home. This is greatly encouraged as it allows plenty of rest as well as physical and mental stimulation.
Recent studies have confirmed that graded exercise therapy is one of the most effective interventions to assist with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, with results showing improvements in fatigue, levels of pain, physical function, self-perceived quality of life, mental health, sleep and overall health.

Doing this on your own could encourage over-exertion, over-ambition or even idleness and apprehensiveness. Exercise Physiologists are trained to assist clients by using their professional knowledge and experience to work out the best way to work with each individual. Please contact Absolute Balance Exercise Physiology with any questions or concerns.

Emily Tann | B.Sc. – Exercise, Sports and Rehabilitation | Grad. Dip in Clinical Exercise Physiology |

Exercise Consultant/ Exercise Physiologist (ESSAM)

P: 9244 5580
M: 0499 909 911
F: 92445582


Larun, L., Brurberg, K. G., Odgaard-Jensen, J., Price, J. R (2017). Exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome. Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Group. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003200.pub7.

Larun, L., Odgaard-Jensen, J., Brurberg, K. G., et al. (2014) Exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011040

Whiteside, A., Hansen, S., Chaudhuri, A. (2004) Exercise lowers pain threshold in chronic fatigue syndrome.  International Association for the Study of Pain. Elsevier B.V. 109(3) pages 467-499. DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2004.02.029