How To Exercise When You Are Dealing With Chronic Fatigue


By Yulli Agnes, MD, MBiomed (AAM)

Millions of people experience chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue is different from the normal tiredness that comes after nights with too little sleep. Chronic fatigue is characterized by exhaustion and brain fog (and yes, can include pain), it actually causes physical and mental symptoms like inattentiveness, down mood, and slow reaction times.

Chronic fatigue shows up in a range of ways, and while many sufferers are able to push through it, others struggle to find the motivation and strength to go through daily life.

In the quest to alleviate these symptoms, exercise is often a controversial piece of the puzzle. Not only do most people not have the energy to exercise, but working out too much can worsen symptoms. Should you be exercising? This is not an easy question to answer because there's not one solution that's right for everyone.

We all know that physical activity is important for proper health and stress management. In the right balance, exercise helps maintain insulin sensitivity, blood glucose, muscle mass and also produces body chemicals that can promote relaxation.

When you're feeling exhausted and achy, it's not always easy to find the energy to work out. But in order to heal, getting enough exercise is key. Here's the best way to go about it.


Start slow, but start.

It makes sense that exercise isn't exactly appealing for people suffering from chronic fatigue, but you do need to move your body to improve the symptoms. At the beginning, a workout might be simply walking around the block or a gentle yoga.

Try to incorporate exercise into your daily and weekly routine.  While it is considered best to exercise in the morning when your metabolism is ready for greater activity, you’ll want to structure your daily exercise to fit your daily routine.  Some people may find that exercising in the late evening may interfere with their sleep.

Add some music to make it fun, or if you need some motivation ask a friend, join a group session or a yoga class. The real key is to get started then commit to sticking with it.


Don’t overdo it; you should feel rejuvenated, not exhausted.

Exercise helps you optimize your energy production and creates more energy stores, unless you take it too far. Make sure you're moving enough. Light exercise and stretching is ideal for producing the health benefits that result in stress reduction. Strenuous training, however, can add stress to your body.

At the end of exercising, you should feel amazing, invigorated, having more energy than when you started. If you feel weak, exhausted, like you need a nap, or feeling like you’re about to faint after a workout, then you overdid it. Next time decrease the intensity by 50 percent and see how you feel.

The key is to find the happy medium. Find a workout that gives you just enough energy, so don't overdo it. If CrossFit leaves you feeling completely exhausted, for example, consider walking, going to yoga, or jogging.


Listen to your body

The biggest mistake people with chronic fatigue can make is to assume there's a one-size-fits-all exercise that will help them get better. Everyone's body is different. Don’t listen to people telling you "No pain, no gain.” There's good pain, when you're working your muscles and getting stronger, and deep down everyone knows the difference between good pain and bad pain. How does it feel to you? Connect to your body and understand its limitations. Learn to listen to your body.


Be patient with yourself.

It can be a frustrating process and will test you not just physically but mentally and emotionally—especially if you're used to being highly active. But you can have a successful exercise routine through chronic fatigue by adjusting your expectation, being honest and kind with yourself, and don't push too hard.

Staying active through chronic fatigue is about baby steps.