Guidelines for exercising with ME/CFS or FM?

Q: I am really tired of having people tell me about how exercise is good, and no exercise is bad. I was a runner before ME/CFS & FM, but now trying to do what I love is a disaster. How can I rise from total potato status without a flare?

A: Exercise is a touchy subject for ME/CFS and fibromyalgia patients. Since post-exertional malaise (extreme, prolonged exhaustion and a worsening of symptoms following physical exertion) is a key symptom of ME/CFS, most patients balk at the suggestion of exercise. And for FM patients, when it hurts to move, the idea of exercising seems unfathomable – yet multiple studies have shown that exercise is an important component of any FM treatment plan.

Part of the problem is that most people think of exercise as jogging, aerobics and other strenuous activities.

ME/CFS and FM specialist Dr. Charles Lapp suggests redefining “exercise” for these patients. Perhaps a better word would be “movement.” He says the main thing is to avoid strict bed rest, which causes deconditioning, which in turn makes symptoms worse.

Important ME/CFS & FM “exercise” tips:

Move your body as much as you are able – even if it’s just walking to the kitchen for a glass of water.
Deep breathing exercises – learning to breathe from the lower part of the diaphragm – are essential. Shallow breathing increases neck and shoulder pain and can cause chest tightness, shortness of breath and spasms in the postural muscles. Deep breathing eases tension and improves the circulation of oxygen in your body. Dr. William Collinge offers an excellent explanation of how to use deep breathing to relax (scroll down to “Using the Breath”).

Stretch your muscles periodically throughout the day. Begin slowly with seated stretches. After several weeks, if you are able, progress to standing stretches. [See the Arthritis foundation’s short videos demonstrating seven simple stretches.]
When you first begin any new type of exercise, think in terms of seconds, not minutes. Depending on the severity of your illness, start with as little as 30 seconds and build up very gradually (i.e., spend several weeks at each level).
Take frequent rest breaks. The CDC recommends that ME/CFS patients rest three minutes for each minute of exercise. Once you’ve moved into strength training or cardiovascular exercise, it’s a good idea to only exercise every other day, allowing yourself a day of rest between workouts.
Break up your exercise sessions. Five three-minute sessions are much better for ME/CFS patients than one fifteen-minute session.
For those who are able to tolerate a longer period of exertion, water exercise may be a good option. Water’s buoyancy decreases the effects of gravity, displacing 85 percent of your weight. As a result, it takes less effort to move because you don’t have to support your whole weight. Also, immersion in water promotes relaxation, reduces muscle fatigue and lessens pain perception.

To read more about physical activity and stretching for fibromyalg patients, see “Planning Your Exercise Regimen,” by Claudia Craig Marek, Medical Assistant to FM specialist R. Paul St Amand, MD.]
Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is general and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and reviewing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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2 thoughts on “Guidelines for exercising with ME/CFS or FM?”

  1. IanH says:

    I have had cfs with fibromyalgia for 15 years and in the beginning I would never have believed that exercise would help. Every attempt would make me worse. I eventually learned that with cfs life is not short anymore – I had all the time in the world to take care of myself cos nothing was going to cure me and I was out of a job – so I set out on a looong journey of exercise.

    After 7 years I can now go for long walks, do a daily exercise program and some housework. This has all led me to doing some part time work too. And most importantly I am off all the shitty analgesics. I can actually say I am fit but at times I cannot climb a flight of stairs and I cannot stand up first thing in the morning and when I am exposed to insecticide or bad perfume I almost collapse. Funny thing this cfs! But I can say, for me exercise helped but it took 7 years of very careful and slow progress.

  2. 22ciaran says:

    I just came from the doctor today, and found out after several months, not only did my lumps in my thyroid increased from one to four. I have been taking blood test, and I did realize that I felt light headed and my neck seems tender, and I feel like I am having hot flashes all the time.

    I have already went through a process of having a complet hysterectomy, due to indometriosis. Every time I go to the doctor, it seems like they find a new problem with me.

    I also suffer from sleep apnea, and asthma.

    they want to remove my throid, but I told them that I am already on enough medication, causing me to blow up like a huge hog. I left 117lbs with prednizone and steroids for everything else. More problems, I can do without.

    I am in school with five classes left from my first degree. How am I going to handle all of this and trying to finish school.

    Even though it is only a AA degree, out of 13 children, even though every one graduated from high school, I will be the first to receive a AA and the second to go and come out of the military.

    I am real nervous about this, because I am getting ready to have my first grandbaby in June, and now I have to worry about how am I going to help my daughter raise my grand child.

    Pelase help

    any advise is welcome

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