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Does rest or exercise help ease Chronic Fatigue?


Steve Spinks
13 May 2013
Southern Cross University academics are looking for people who have been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) to participate in a pilot study that may help them understand the effects of exercise and rest on sufferers.

Dr Suzanne Broadbent and Dr Rosanne Coutts, of the School of Health and Human Sciences, have received a grant from the JO and JR Wicking Trust and the Mason Foundation to investigate if intermittent or graded exercise improves patient fitness, fatigue and immune function compared to rest.

“The current best exercise management practice for CFS patients involves graded exercise sessions where the patient exercises at a well-tolerated constant rate or load and length of the session is gradually increased over time. However, some CFS patients still report fatigue and muscle pain with graded exercise and are less likely to participate in physical activity,” Dr Broadbent said.

“Intermittent training, where intervals of exercise are alternated with intervals of rest or very lose intensity exercise, has been successfully used with cardiac, pulmonary and older adults who are very unfit. It’s believed intermittent training may increase exercise tolerance by reducing the onset of symptoms, fatigue and perceived exertion while still providing the same overall amount of physical activity as steady state exercise.

“CFS patients may find it easier to adhere to intermittent exercise programs if their symptoms are not worsened. By doing some exercise CFS patients are less likely to develop other chronic conditions and will be able to maintain muscle strength. Exercise also has psychological benefits for CFS patients because it can help reduce depression and can increase quality of life and feelings of well-being.

“During the study we will monitor fatigue, heart rate, blood pressure and exertion with exercise and fitness levels. We will also monitor immune function and wellness will be assessed before and after the study.”

There is no clear cause of CFS but a severe virus, such as glandular fever, or severe stress may be a trigger for the condition. The condition is characterised by persistent chronic and recurring fatigue lasting for more than six months. The fatigue does not result from physical activity and is not improved by rest.

Other symptoms include muscle weakness and pain, swollen lymph nodes and fever, poor concentration and reduced quality of life. CFS is also associated with immune system dysfunction and can cause severe interruptions to education or employment and possible lead to other chronic conditions such as cardiac disease, metabolic conditions and cancer.

The pilot study will run for 12 weeks with short exercise sessions three times per week. The exercise will be either low intensity graded exercise or intermittent low intensity exercise with periods of rest.

Participants need to have been diagnosed with CFS by a doctor, aged between 16 to 65, and have their doctor’s approval to do some physical activity. All testing will be conducted at the Lismore campus. Contact Natasha Maslen on 02 6626 9585 for further details.

Photo: Dr Suzanne Broadbent.