Randomised controlled trial of graded exercise in chronic fatigue syndrome

Karen E Wallman, Alan R Morton, Carmel Goodman, Robert Grove and Andrew M Guilfoyle
Med J Aust 2004; 180 (9): 444-448.


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.

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  • Karen E Wallman1
  • Alan R Morton2
  • Carmel Goodman3
  • Robert Grove4
  • Andrew M Guilfoyle5

  • 1 School of Human Movement and Exercise Science, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA.
  • 2 School of Psychology, Edith Cowan University, Perth, WA.


Competing interests:

None identified.

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