Randomised controlled trial of graded exercise in chronic fatigue syndrome

Med J Aust. 2004 May 3;180(9):444-8. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2004.tb06019.x.


Objective: To investigate whether 12 weeks of graded exercise with pacing would improve specific physiological, psychological and cognitive functions in people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

Design: Randomised controlled trial.

Setting: Human performance laboratory at the University of Western Australia.

Participants: 61 patients aged between 16 and 74 years diagnosed with CFS.

Interventions: Either graded exercise with pacing (32 patients) or relaxation/flexibility therapy (29 patients) performed twice a day over 12 weeks.

Main outcome measures: Changes in any of the physiological, psychological or cognitive variables assessed.

Results: Following the graded exercise intervention, scores were improved for resting systolic blood pressure (P = 0.018), work capacity (W.kg(-1)) (P = 0.019), net blood lactate production (P = 0.036), depression (P = 0.027) and performance on a modified Stroop Colour Word test (P = 0.029). Rating of perceived exertion scores, associated with an exercise test, was lower after graded exercise (P = 0.013). No such changes were observed in the relaxation/flexibility condition, which served as an attention-placebo control.

Conclusions: Graded exercise was associated with improvements in physical work capacity, as well as in specific psychological and cognitive variables. Improvements may be associated with the abandonment of avoidance behaviours.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cognition
  • Depressive Disorder / complications
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Exercise*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / psychology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / therapy*
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychometrics
  • Relaxation Therapy