Comments on the response to exercise in the chronic fatigue syndrome
I played a lot of sport as a teenager but when I was 25 years old I had numerous aliments, and when I consulted my doctor and asked him what to do about them he would shrug his shoulders to indicate that he didn’t know, and prescribe medications which didn’t relieve the symptoms.
I considered that he had read the latest medical books and journals, and that no-one knew the cause, and that a researcher would probably discover it in the next one hundred or five hundred years, but I wanted the answers in my lifetime, so I decided to study them myself.
When I was at my worst I was laying on my back on the lounge room carpet and staring at the ceiling and wondering what to do.
I could get up and walk for ten yards with difficulty, and for several hundred yards if necessary, but spent most of my time laying down.
About a year later I heard of a medical research organisation which was studying the effect of exercise on people who had a variety of illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, obesity, or heart disease etc. so I enrolled in a general class where about fifty people with different ailments were involved.
When we walked onto an oval and began running I tried to keep up but I couldn’t so I slowed down to walking or jogging level, and the instructor told me to ignore my symptoms and catch up with the others, so I ran faster but had problems again so I slowed down and continued in my own manner several times a week for almost a year.
During that time there were several occasions when I did too much exercise which resulted in adverse effects, and one example is when I participated in a relay race which took me about 20 minutes to recover from, and a week before I could resume exercise again.
About seven years later the head of that organisation asked me to design a project to study other people with chronic fatigue so I did, and several of them trained for 12 weeks, and then 24 weeks, and some improved and none reported problems.
I then left the project and sometime later learned that one of them continued for more than a year and completed a 6 mile event.
However in recent discussions in BMJ I have seen questions about the fatigue being due to the lack of exercise or not, and if the reluctance to exercise is due to a fear of exercise or not.
I therefore include a photo taken when I was about seventeen years old doing a straddle vault over a friend of mine who was sitting on a vaulting horse which was five feet high and five feet long.
My head is about ten feet above the floor, and there is a look of confidence on my face due to the fact that I had done that vault hundreds of times before.
I would sprint at full speed for ten or twenty feet, and then hop, step, and bounce with full force on the end of a five foot long spring board in order to achieve the height and distance required.
On some occasions I missed the end of the spring board and hit the vaulting horse, and on others I didn’t get enough bounce and toppled from the top until my foot hit the vaulting horse, and then I fell to the floor, and on other occasions I would bounce at an awkward angle, and miss the foam mats on the other side, and land on the hard wooden floor and get up and do it again.
Needless to say people who are afraid of exercise don’t do that type of gymnastics.
I can also say that my health improved while I was training at age 25 in 1976, as did the health of some of those in my research project of 1982/3.
I have also included another essay with more details for consideration as an attachment.
Max Allan Banfield 2014 (January 8th), A 1982-3 research paper on the effects of regular exercise on chronic fatigue, The British Medical Journal (Online Rapid Responses), BMJ 2013;347:f5731
The attachment which contains the PDF for the paper is here
Ian Mcilroy 2015, (January 21st), Re:Tackling fears about exercise is important for ME treatment, analysis indicates.BMJ 2015:350;h227, Actual page http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h227/rr-17
Competing interests: No competing interests