Exercise to Treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Yay or Nay?

For over a decade, medical controversy has been brewing over chronic fatigue syndrome and exercise as a therapy to treat its symptoms. A disputed review, originally published in 2004 and updated as recently as this year, has come under fire from patients as well as their advocates for its suggestion that exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome is an effective treatment for the condition. Chronic fatigue syndrome and exercise are typically at odds, due to a symptom called post-exertional malaise that leaves individuals bedridden for extended periods of time following even small amounts of physical exertion.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Exercise

The controversial advice surrounding chronic fatigue syndrome and exercise therapy had for a time been adopted by the CDC as a safe way to manage symptoms of the condition, effectively curing patients of the illness. These guidelines were based on a problematic review that concluded that patients experienced less fatigue after taking part in exercise therapy, and that there were no negative effects of the method of treatment.

According to NPR, the CDC had initially recommended a specific exercise therapy regimen that gradually become more vigorous through the duration of the treatment. Recently, however, the CDC removed exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome from their website. It turns out that this kind of exercise therapy ended up doing more harm than good for some patients, and thus could no longer be considered a viable treatment for the condition.

Evidence of the reversal in what the medical community understands about chronic fatigue syndrome can be seen in a separate analysis published this summer that found that between half to three-quarters of patients had negative responses to exercise therapy. Furthermore, this study found that perhaps much less than a third of patients gained any benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a therapy that the controversial study deemed equally as effective as exercise therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy was also removed from the CDC website as a treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome.

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