“Exercise, and you will feel more energetic throughout the day.”
That is on of the most used phrases among health practitioners – But is there any substance to this claim? Can you really feel more energetic by exhausting yourself physically on regular basis?
Let me be perfectly honest with you guys: I’m tired. As I’m writing this I feel exhausted in body and mind. And I am not alone. Every single patient I met today said one of their toughest symptoms were abnormal tiredness. Every single one of my colleagues was talking about how hard it was to get out of bed this morning. The whole goddamn western civilization has turned into sleepwalking robots, practically sleeping with their index finger on the Snooze-button. The speculation of why this might be is topic for another (very long) article, but as one might predict, sooner or later the somewhat controversial question came come to me:
Is it true that exercise can actually make you feel more energetic?
The Research on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Exercise
To best answer this question, let’s look at the research done on abnormally tired patients and exercise. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition, characterized by persistent fatigue. Its cause cannot be explained by any other medical condition (cancer, hypothyreosis, insomnia etc.) or logic (lack of sleep, irregular sleeping patterns, grief etc.) When searching for adequate papers, I came over a Cochrane review – basically the king of scientific evidence with insanely high trustworthiness, looking at this very subject. For a science geek like me, finding a Cochrane review on a topic you’re interested in is as rewarding as eating one whole cheesecake in one sitting.
According to the text books, standard treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome ranges from antidepressants, self-help treatment, and cognitive behavior therapy to dietary intervention such as supplementation with fish oil and folic acid. Exercise is known to improve strength, cardiovascular health and psychological status in the general population but this study was one of the first to look at its efficacy in reducing tiredness in chronically fatigued patients.
The results were mind-blowing. In this group of patients, exercise therapy was more effective than standard treatment on factors such as:
- Symptoms of fatigue
- Symptoms of depression
- Increasing quality of life
- Enhancing sleep quality
Interestingly, exercise therapy was more effective than the anti-depressant drug Fluoxetine in reducing fatigue although less effective in reducing symptoms of depression (non-significant results). However, drop out was more common among groups treated with exercise then Fluoxetine, perhaps stating the obvious: eating pills is easier than exercising if chronically fatigued.
To sum the findings of this review: Physical activity is pretty awesome for helping people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. The question however still remains:
Can this knowledge be applied to the general tired population?
It’s as easy as that. I might not have hard scientific evidence at hand to support this claim but I feel pretty confident about recommending increased physical activity to whoever might feel fatigued. If the abnormally tired group of patients we looked at above experienced a decrease in fatigue, had less depressive symptoms and saw an increase their quality of life, then I do not see why this would not apply to the general fatigued population, even if they don’t have the diagnosis in their medical journals.
Worst case scenario, I might be completely wrong and my recommendation could put you at risk for one or more of the known side effects of increased physical activity: strength gains, increased cardiovascular health, increased metabolic rate, muscular hypertrophy, improved well-being, increased sex drive, and less of a likelihood that you’ll sleep alone in the future. My bad.
At least you’ll sleep like a baby.
Edmonds M, McGuire H, Price JR. Exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2004, Issue 3.
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