Exercise is a good thing for people living with some chronic conditions but not for others. ME/CFS can respond very negatively to even mild exercise. Some sufferers can even run the risk of experiencing what is known as a crash — a relapse — which can cause the individual to lose considerable ground, sometimes permanently.
A relapse often occurs within the first 48 hours after the exertion due to post-exertional malaise. This symptom is a hallmark of ME/CFS. ME is myalgic encephalomyelitis, and CFS is chronic fatigue syndrome.
While the illness has been poorly studied, and it's difficult to say just who has it, or just what symptoms are identified in every case, I would venture to say after two decades of having ME/CFS myself, that we've all got this one.
It's hard for me to walk the tightrope between enough exercise and too much. But for many with ME/CFS, this is one tightrope they never have to deal with though they might wish they did. They are much too ill to do more than lift their head off the pillow. Some can't do that, they need someone to lift their heads for them.
I have been living with ME/CFS for 24 years. And I have started over more times than I can count. I start so small it seems ridiculous.
I'll do perhaps two minutes — no more than that — of some gentle stretching. Then nothing for a couple of days afterward. If there are no ill effects, I will do two minutes again, and take a couple of days off again. By tiny increments, as if to fool my body into thinking nothing was happening to it, I gradually increase my activities.
At one time, I had no relapses for an entire summer and was eventually going for two half-hour walks and spending half an hour doing simple exercises — leg lifts, curls, some yoga — and 20 minutes of lifting 3-pound weights, in a day. I would take a day off in between activity days.
This is NOT the typical experience of someone with ME/CFS. I was very lucky that it was mine. It's only happened on this scale for me once, a decade ago. It was glorious. And then something happened.