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.