Exercise cuts fatigue and boosts energy

People who regularly complain of feeling tired and fatigued may be better off doing some light exercise than collapsing on the couch, US researchers have found.

In a report published last week, a University of Georgia team said regular, low-intensity exercise such as a leisurely stroll can increase energy levels by 20 per cent and decrease feelings of fatigue by 65 per cent.

‘Too often we believe that a quick workout will leave us worn out – especially when we are already feeling fatigued,’ said Tim Puetz, the study’s lead author.

‘However, we have shown that regular exercise can actually go a long way in increasing feelings of energy – particularly in sedentary individuals.’

The study team monitored 36 people that did not exercise regularly and complained of persistent fatigue. They were divided into three groups; the first group did 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, three times a week for six weeks; the second did low-intensity exercise for the same amount of time, while the third group did no exercise.

The researchers said they were surprised to find the group doing low-intensity exercise reported the biggest drop in fatigue levels – by 65 per cent – compared with a 49 per cent drop in fatigue levels for the group doing moderate-intensity exercise. Both groups had a 20 per cent increase in energy levels compared with the group that did no exercise.

‘It could be that moderate-intensity exercise is too much for people who are already fatigued and that might contribute to them not getting as great an improvement as they would had they done the low-intensity exercise,’ said the study’s co-author, Professor Patrick O’Connor.

The researchers believe one in four people suffer from some form of persistent fatigue that does not fit within the scope of a medical condition, such as chronic fatigue syndrome.

‘A lot of people are overworked and not sleeping enough,’ Mr. O’Connor said. ‘Exercise is a way for people to feel more energetic. There’s a scientific basis for it, and there are advantages to it compared to things like caffeine and energy drinks.’

The team emphasised that the improvements in energy and fatigue were not related to increases in aerobic fitness that the participants experienced.

Mr. Puetz said the finding suggests that exercise acts directly on the central nervous system to increase energy and reduce fatigue.

‘Exercise traditionally has been associated with physical health, but we are quickly learning that exercise has a more holistic effect on the human body and includes effects on psychological health,’ he said. ‘What this means is that in every workout a single step is not just a step closer to a healthier body, but also to a healthier mind.’

The full study appears in the February issue of the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

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