Chronic fatigue syndrome participants wanted for aquatic exercise trial

Published 22 February 2019
Chronic fatigue syndrome Sonja Coetzee Dr Sonja Coetzee at the Southern Cross University pool in Lismore.

Water-based exercise may be the key to a better quality of life for people with chronic fatigue syndrome. Now researchers from Southern Cross University and University of the Sunshine Coast are seeking participants for a new six-month aquatic exercise study

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a debilitating condition that causes extreme fatigue, pain and sleep problems. Initial results from a small pilot study in 2016 showed five-weeks of aquatic exercise was well tolerated.

The research team is set to expand the project, seeking 60 people with CFS for a longer trial over six months at two sites:

  • Lismore on the NSW Far North Coast (initial pilot location); and
  • Sippy Downs on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

“Aquatic exercise and hydrotherapy are recommended types of physical activity for people with Fibromyalgia and muscle pain,” said lead researcher Dr Sonja Coetzee from Southern Cross University.

“However, to date this type of exercise has not been investigated or considered as form of management or intervention in people with ME/CFS, even though up to 70 per cent of people with CFS/ME also have Fibromyalgia.

“Our pilot study showed five weeks of aquatic exercise for ME/CFS was well-tolerated with no symptom exacerbation. There were significant improvements in aerobic capacity, strength and flexibility.”

The positive findings from the initial study helped Dr Coetzee secure a $100,000 grant from the Judith Jane Mason & Harold Stannett Williams Memorial Foundation (The Mason Foundation) for this more robust long-term investigation.

“Currently there is no cure for CFS, and in some cases, the condition can persist for several years,” said co-researcher Dr Suzanne Broadbent from the University of the Sunshine Coast.

“However, there are treatments available that are aimed at relieving symptoms, increasing levels of activity and improving quality of life.

“This project will investigate the effects of a six-month supervised, self-paced, gentle aquatic exercise intervention on exercise capacity and wellness, fatigue, tiredness and other ME/CFS symptoms.”


What is chronic fatigue?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) is a complex condition that causes extreme fatigue, sleep problems, pain and other symptoms. People with CFS feel very tired and exhausted most of the time with their fatigue not improving with rest, and it is often much worse after physical or mental activity. The condition significantly impacts everyday life, including work or study. Previously simple tasks may become hard, and it may sometimes be too difficult to even get out of bed.


The study

This study will investigate the possible benefits of six months of low-intensity, self-paced aquatic exercise, conducted twice a week. The overall time of the exercise will be approximately 15-20 minutes but may be as low as 10 minutes per person, depending on individual symptoms. The program is not strenuous exercise and the study aims to reduce fatigue, muscle/joint pain and tiredness, and to improve blood pressure, heart rate, strength, flexibility, wellness and the capacity to be active.

The study will run at two sites:

  • Southern Cross University Lismore campus in NSW
  • University of the Sunshine Coast Sippy Downs Campus in QLD.

To participate in this study, individuals must be aged between 18 and 80 years and have a current diagnosis by a doctor of one of the following:

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)
  • Post Viral Syndrome (PVS), Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS) or Post Infectious Fatigue Syndrome (PIFS)
  • Chronic Mononucleosis

For more information and to participate, contact the researchers:

Lismore/NSW North Coast:


Sippy Downs/Sunshine Coast:


The research has obtained approval by the Human Research Ethics Committee of Southern Cross University (ECN-18-131) and is registered as a clinical trial with the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ANZCTR) (trial number ACTRN12618001683224.NZCTR).

Media contact: Sharlene King 0429 661 349 or