Walk off chronic fatigue syndrome

New evidence that exercise can help

Just as a cough can be caused by anything from an allergy to tuberculosis, "A lot of different circumstances can result in what we call chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)," explains Quentin Regestein, MD. "Chronic fatigue syndrome is a fruit salad that's flavored by a million different condiments." With so many causes, the illness is particularly difficult to treat.

But a new study offers hope that for some CFS patients, the road to recovery is a walking trail. In a study at St. Bartholomew's and the Royal London Medical School in Britain, researchers enrolled 66 patients in a 12-week program of either aerobic exercise (five days a week) or flexibility training. By the end of the study, twice as many of the exercisers rated themselves as feeling better, compared with those in the flexibility group. The exercising group also showed more improvement on measurements of fatigue (British Medical Journal, June 7, 1997).

"It's an optimistic observation," says Dr. Regestein, who studies chronic fatigue and sleep disorders at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston. Since the exercise program consisted mainly of light walking (at about 50% of maximum heart rate), he suggests that people who want to try this approach "begin with something you know you can do, then build up from there." Dr. Regestein notes that the benefits of exercise for CFS patients may go beyond conditioning the body to fight fatigue. "It is very likely that just getting up and getting out into the daylight regularly helps to keep you going."

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By RICK CHILLOT WITH YUN LEE WOLFE

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