Anyone "new" to CFS might be interested in this article.. Chronic fatigue syndrome and exercise Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an illness characterised by extreme exhaustion. Other common symptoms include aching muscles, joint pains, headache, sore throat and flu-like feelings. The cause is unknown and recovery can take years. In some cases, people don’t recover and suffer relapses throughout their lives. Exercise is often a problem for people with CFS because physical activity may worsen their symptoms. Medical opinion has been divided on whether CFS patients should attempt regular exercise or not - some believe that gentle exercise is helpful, while others caution against any form of aerobic activity at all. However, a study recently published in the British Medical Journal found that patient education on CFS and a graded exercise program can greatly improve CFS symptoms in many cases. Exercise may not be possible Some people with CFS, especially in the weeks or months following onset, are unable to perform the most basic activities, such as showering or walking from one room to another. In such cases of extreme exhaustion and pain, the person may be confined to their bed. As time passes, they may feel a little better and attempt regular exercise. However, aerobic activity can cause a relapse of symptoms that forces the person back to their bed again. The added problem for CFS sufferers is that a sedentary lifestyle causes a range of other health problems including muscle wastage, loss of bone mass, and increased risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. The lactic acid connection Lactic acid is a chemical by-product of muscular activity. In healthy people, a build-up of lactic acid causes fatigue. Research from The University of Adelaide suggests that exercise worsens CFS symptoms because it triggers a flood of excess lactic acid. In some trials, CFS patients were found to produce double the amount of lactic acid than people without CFS, even when taking lack of fitness into account. The researchers stress that more research is needed, but their findings suggest that CFS may be linked to an error in energy metabolism. The potassium connection Medical problems that cause low levels of the electrolyte potassium often include chronic fatigue as a symptom. The bulk of the body’s potassium supply is found in muscle tissue, with the rest in the brain, blood and internal organs. A recent study found that people with CFS have less total body potassium (TBP) than healthy people of similar age and weight. Exercise suggestions A person with CFS needs a gentle approach to physical activity and should only make tiny increases in the frequency, duration and intensity of their exercise program. Be guided by your doctor or physiotherapist, but general suggestions include: Aim for no more than three exercise sessions per week. Experiment to find the type of exercise that works best for you. Choose from a range of gentle activities such as stretching, yoga, Tai Chi, walking and light weight training. Stretching seems to be well tolerated by people with CFS. You may prefer to perform your stretching program while lying down in bed. Aerobic exercise seems to cause relapses for many people with CFS. If this is true for you, try non-aerobic forms of exercise like weight training with one-kilogram dumbbells. Learn from past relapses. For example, if walking for 20 minutes worsened your symptoms, try walking for five minutes and see how that goes. It may be helpful to keep a diary to keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Stop the physical activity well before you feel tired. Remember that your exercise tolerance will differ from one day to the next. Listen to your body - if you don’t feel up to exercising on a particular day, don’t. Only increase the intensity, time spent or frequency of exercise when you know you can cope with it. For example, if you can exercise for five minutes without suffering a relapse, try for six minutes. Educate yourself People who have a thorough knowledge of CFS tend to manage their condition better and have a more positive outlook. Suggestions include: Find out as much as you can about CFS. Understanding your condition can help you to manage it better. You could consult with your doctor, physiotherapist or CFS association, read books on the subject, or browse through reputable CFS sites on the Internet . Networking with other CFS sufferers can give you more ideas on how to exercise without worsening your symptoms. If you’re not already in a support group, consider joining one. Many CFS websites offer online chat rooms too. Set realistic exercise goals, and congratulate yourself for any gains that you make, no matter how small. Be patient - it may take months or years to slowly build up the intensity, duration or frequency of your exercise program. A person with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) should only make tiny increases in the frequency, duration and intensity of their exercise program. Stretching seems to be well tolerated by people with CFS. Listen to your body - if you don’t feel up to exercising on a particular day, don’t. Related articles: Chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic illness. Fatigue explained. Fatigue fighting tips. This page has been sourced from the Better Health Channel and produced in consultation with, and approved by the following sponsor. The sponsor logo links to more information relevant to this article.