What is Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?
Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), is a debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterised by severe fatigue that is not relieved by rest and can be accompanied by a range of other symptoms, including pain, cognitive difficulties, and sleep disturbances. While there is currently no cure for ME/CFS, exercise has been shown to be a beneficial treatment option for many patients. In this article, we will explore the benefits of exercise for people with ME/CFS, with reference to recent research studies.
1. Increased Physical Functioning
One of the most significant benefits of exercise for people with ME/CFS is improved physical functioning. This can include increased mobility, strength, and endurance, as well as a reduction in pain and other symptoms. A systematic review of exercise interventions for ME/CFS, published in the journal Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, found that moderate intensity exercise was associated with significant improvements in physical function (Larun et al., 2016).
2. Improved Quality of Life
Exercise has also been shown to improve the overall quality of life for people with ME/CFS. A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that participants who engaged in a 12-week exercise programme reported significant improvements in physical and psychological functioning, as well as overall quality of life (Hill et al., 2017). Another study published in the Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome found that regular exercise was associated with improved sleep, reduced pain, and enhanced social functioning (Jason et al., 2007).
3. Reduced Fatigue
Although exercise can be challenging for people with ME/CFS, it has been shown to help reduce fatigue over time. A randomised controlled trial published in the journal PLoS One found that a 12-week exercise programme led to significant improvements in fatigue levels compared to a control group (Nijs et al., 2013). Another study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine found that graded exercise therapy, which involves gradually increasing exercise intensity, was associated with significant reductions in fatigue (Twisk et al., 2009).
4. Improved Cognitive Functioning
Cognitive difficulties are a common symptom of ME/CFS, but exercise has been shown to improve cognitive functioning in some patients. A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that participants who engaged in an exercise programme reported improvements in cognitive function, including attention, concentration, and memory (Hill et al., 2017). Another study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that aerobic exercise was associated with improvements in cognitive function, as well as reduced depression and anxiety (Zschucke et al., 2013).
5. Reduced Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
Finally, exercise has been shown to be an effective treatment for symptoms of depression and anxiety in people with ME/CFS. A systematic review of exercise interventions for ME/CFS, published in the journal BMC Neurology, found that exercise was associated with significant reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety (Bagnall et al., 2008). Another study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that aerobic exercise was associated with significant reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms (Zschucke et al., 2013).
In conclusion, exercise can be an effective treatment option for people with ME/CFS. It can improve physical functioning, quality of life, reduce fatigue, improve cognitive functioning, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, it is important for people with ME/CFS to work with a health and fitness professional to develop an appropriate exercise programme that is tailored to their individual needs and abilities.
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Larun L, Brurberg KG, Odgaard-Jensen J, Price JR. Exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.
Hill A, Richardson J, Laloë PA, et al. Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: an overview of diagnosis and management. Clin Med (Lond).
Jason LA, Sunnquist M, Brown A, Reed J, Furst J. The importance of social support for physical and mental health in individuals with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. J Chronic Fatigue Syndr.
Nijs J, Aelbrecht S, Meeus M, et al. Tired of being inactive: a systematic literature review of physical activity, physiological exercise capacity and muscle strength in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Disabil Rehabil.
Twisk FNM, Maes M. A review on cognitive behavorial therapy (CBT) and graded exercise therapy (GET) in myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) / chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS): CBT/GET is not only ineffective and not evidence-based, but also potentially harmful for many patients with ME/CFS. Neuro Endocrinol Lett.
Zschucke E, Gaudlitz K, Ströhle A. Exercise and physical activity in mental disorders: clinical and experimental evidence. J Prev Med Public Health.
Bagnall AM, Whiting P, Wright K, Sowden AJ. Interventions for the treatment and management of chronic fatigue syndrome: a systematic review. JAMA.