Gentle exercise can help people with ME alleviate their symptoms, a study published in The Lancet has suggested.
The study, Rehabilitative therapies for chronic fatigue syndrome, examined 641 patients with ME, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), participating in specialist ME programmes in the UK. They found that people with the condition often fear that exercise will exacerbate their symptoms. However, the researchers concluded that regular gentle exercise can reduce this fear of physical activity.
The study examined two common treatments for ME: cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and graded exercise therapy (GET). CBT is based on changing the way people think and behave, whereas GET involves gradually increasing the amount of exercise the patient does to help them cope with their condition.
The study's authors from King's College London, Queen Mary University and Oxford University suggested that it has already been established that these treatments are more effective than adaptive pacing therapy, which involves minimising activity to alleviate symptoms of ME.
They found that 'fear avoidance beliefs' were the strongest mediator on the effects of both GET and CBT. The study also found that an increase in exercise tolerance can limit the efficacy of GET, but not CBT.
Sonya Chowdhury, chief executive of charity Action for M.E., said: 'This does not mean that ME or CFS is a psychological illness. Or that people with ME are afraid of taking part in appropriate activity or exercise.
She added: 'Appropriate activity might involve a short walk or, for someone with severe ME, small movements or even sitting up in bed.'
It is estimated that ME affects nearly a quarter of a million people in the UK. Symptoms include exhaustion, chronic pain, and disturbed sleep.