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Exercise Helps Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

30 Minutes of Exercise -- Several Times a Week -- Boosts Energy Levels
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WebMD Health News

July 22, 2004 -- With three months of regular exercise, chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers can get renewed energy, a new report shows.

Chronic fatigue syndrome has long been a mystery -- a major health problem that severely affects quality of life, even the ability to carry on with usual day-to-day activities. Doctors still aren't sure what causes chronic fatigue -- whether it's somehow caused by a viral or bacterial infection, whether it is an immune system disorder, or whether the nervous and hormonal systems are involved.

Treatment typically focuses on reducing fatigue and other symptoms and helping get patients back into an active lifestyle. Simple measures - such as improving sleep habits and getting gentle exercise -- are important parts of treatment. Relaxation therapy, antidepressants, psychotherapy, and exercise are also prescribed to combat the severe fatigue.

But what really works? Exercise therapy looks like a strong contender.

In this review of several studies on chronic fatigue therapies, both fatigue and quality of life improved with three months of exercise therapy. "There is some evidence that [Prozac] provided an added benefit," writes researcher M. Edmonds with the Cochrane Collaboration research group.

Edmonds' report provides a review of data from five studies (involving more than 300 chronic fatigue patients) comparing results of treatments including exercise therapy.

Exercise therapy is typically defined as three to five exercise sessions every week for 12 weeks; each session involves 30 minutes of moderate to intense levels of aerobic exercise.

Patients doing exercise therapy were significantly less fatigued, slightly less depressed, had better physical functioning, slept better, and were better able to work, compared with patients who got no exercise, reports Edmonds. The exercise therapy patients were also more likely to drop out of the studies.

Those who exercised were less fatigued and had a better quality of life than those taking the antidepressant Prozac as their only therapy. However, treatment with exercise plus Prozac was more effective than exercise alone.

"There is encouraging evidence that some patients may benefit from exercise therapy" -- although some patients will likely find exercise less preferable than resting or pacing, Edmonds writes.

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