NICE Guideline > Incorporating physical activity and exercise

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Incorporating physical activity and exercise

1.11.9 Do not advise people with ME/CFS to undertake exercise that is not part of a programme overseen by an ME/CFS specialist team, such as telling them to go to the gym or exercise more, because this may worsen their symptoms.

1.11.10 Only consider a personalised physical activity or exercise programme for people with ME/CFS who:

  • feel ready to progress their physical activity beyond their current activities of daily living or
  • would like to incorporate physical activity or exercise into managing their ME/CFS.

1.11.11 Tell people about the risks and benefits of physical activity and exercise programmes. Explain that some people with ME/CFS have found that they can make their symptoms worse, for some people it makes no difference and others find them helpful.

1.11.12 If a physical activity or exercise programme is offered, it should be overseen by a physiotherapist in an ME/CFS specialist team.

1.11.13 If a person with ME/CFS takes up the offer of a personalised physical activity or exercise programme, agree a programme with them that involves the following and review it regularly:

  • establishing their physical activity baseline at a level that does not worsen their symptoms
  • initially reducing physical activity to be below their baseline level
  • maintaining this successfully for a period of time before attempting to increase it
  • making flexible adjustments to their physical activity (up or down as needed) to help them gradually improve their physical abilities while staying within their energy limits
  • recognising a flare-up or relapse early and outlining how to manage it.

1.11.14 Do not offer people with ME/CFS:

  • any therapy based on physical activity or exercise as a cure for ME/CFS
  • generalised physical activity or exercise programmes – this includes programmes developed for healthy people or people with other illnesses
  • any programme that does not follow the approach in recommendation 1.11.13 or that uses fixed incremental increases in physical activity or exercise, for example, graded exercise therapy (see box 4)
  • physical activity or exercise programmes that are based on deconditioning and exercise avoidance theories as perpetuating ME/CFS.

Box 4 Graded exercise therapy definition

  • Graded exercise therapy is a term used in varying ways by different services supporting people with ME/CFS.
  • In this guideline, graded exercise therapy is defined as first establishing an individual's baseline of achievable exercise or physical activity, then making fixed incremental increases in the time spent being physically active. This definition of graded exercise therapy reflects the descriptions given in the evidence that was reviewed, and it is this approach that the guideline says should not be undertaken.
  • An individualised approach that should be taken for people with ME/CFS who choose to undertake a physical activity or exercise programme is described in recommendations 1.11.10 to 1.11.13.
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