Working Out When You Have Fatigue


Fatigue can hit anyone at any time and it is more than just the feeling of being tired, fatigue is often full-body exhaustion that limits our activity and affects other aspects of our life such as our mood, appetite and relationships.

Fatigue is often associated with illness, it is a common side effect of receiving cancer treatment and can be hard-hitting when in post-recovery of surgery or an illness that had you down and out for a few weeks.

It’s important not to push yourself when experiencing fatigue but it’s also necessary to still get in a regular amount of activity and build yourself up over time, gradually adding more activity or going further distances.

When you are suffering from fatigue, you might feel like even the smallest amount of movement is impossible and going to wipe you out, but thankfully, there are things you can do.

How to Plan Levels of Activity around Your Fatigue

This guide can help you plan levels of activity around your fatigue and get yourself back to more regular movement over time, without pushing yourself to injury or harm.

Create an Activity Diary

A fatigue or activity diary can be the first step to building up your energy and fitness levels again and can help you track back and see your accomplishments and how things have changed over time.

Fatigue/activity diaries can also be useful if you are undergoing treatment and can provide detail of how you are coping or managing fatigue to your treatment team, allowing them to provide guidance and support relevant to your progress.

Activity diaries don’t need to be overly detailed or long-written essays (unless that’s how you prefer to record your progress) and can simply be a short list of what you managed to achieve that day or even a list of things you want to achieve that you tick or cross off as you get to them.

Set yourself a goal every week and aim to meet this, giving yourself a reward when you manage to hit your goal. Don’t over-exert yourself too much or go too hard on yourself if you don’t meet your intended goal, getting through fatigue isn’t a one-day process and you might need to gradually build activity up over weeks or months.

Know and Accept Your Temporary Limitations

We all want to be able to spring into action the moment inspiration hits us but when you are struggling with fatigue, this isn’t always as easy said as done.

It can be understandably frustrating when your body is limiting your physical ability but it’s important to understand your limitations and factor them into working out or getting up and about.

For instance, if you find standing for even a short-time tiring and/or painful, start with exercises you can perform in a sitting or lying position, such as the Single Leg Hip Bridge example or gentle work-outs such as Yoga and Pilates.

Yoga is a fantastic exercise that you can benefit both your mind and your body and doesn’t require huge amounts of fast or intense movement, instead, it is a breathing-focused work-out that reduces feelings of stress and helps to ease feelings of low-energy and fatigue.

Similarly, Pilates, which is almost solely carried out in the lying down position helps to release feelings of stress and works on building core strength which can help increase your physical ability.

Try To Do Even A Small Amount Each Day

One of the best things you can do to help ease feelings of fatigue and beat tiredness is to keep active, the more sedimentary we are, the more likely we are to continue bad habits and make fatigue worse.

Whether you take part in a low-effort workout such as Yoga and Pilates or go for a short walk, it’s proven that even small amounts of activity can help us feel more alert and energised and it’s important to maintain regular exercise to build up your endurance, fitness levels and physical ability over time.

When you exercise, your body does a number of things including producing greater amounts of mitochondria – a part of our cells that is responsible for converting food into energy – this enables to gain greater amounts of energy from what we’ve eaten and in turn, boost our energy levels naturally.

Exercise also helps the brain produce ‘happy chemicals’ known as endorphins which elevate mood levels, ease feelings of tiredness and help to reduce feelings of pain or achiness.

Make Sure to Rest to Aid Recovery

Fatigue can be frustrating in that it often isn’t affected by a good night’s sleep and can even lead to restless sleep or interfere with your sleeping patterns.

Activity and exercise can help ease restless sleep and help you fall asleep faster when it comes time to sleep. It’s important however to still rest and recover properly between working out and exercising.

When feeling particularly tired or your muscles are aching, make sure to only carry out low-intensity exercises like Yoga, Pilates and walking. Once you start to feel better, you can add some higher-intensity exercises including cycling and running.

Warming up and warming down is key when exercising to prevent muscle strain and injury and should only take approximately 5-10 minutes before or after your intended exercise or workout. Gentle warm-ups can include marching on the spot, stretching, shoulder rolls and knee lifts – whatever you feel you are able to achieve.

What Other Exercises Can You Do With Fatigue?

Fatigue affects everyone differently and so different people may be able to achieve varying levels of activity. You will know best how capable you are going to be when it comes to exercising.

To help you get started with exercise and regular activity, here are some low and medium intensity workouts you can carry out from home.


Walking is great as you have complete control over where you go, you can do a few laps around the garden or around the block if you are feeling adventurous.

A ten-minute walk a day is all you need to start feeling the effect on your energy levels, but twenty minutes is recommended where you can fit it in.

Fitting a walk into your day can be as simple as parking slightly further away from home or wherever you are visiting or getting off public transport a stop earlier.

Alternatively, it’s a great time for a catch up with friends, so ask a friend or loved one to join you on your walk and enjoy a good natter as you complete your route.


Squatting is a fairly low intensive, high impact exercise that you can do anywhere – while brushing your teeth, washing up and even during arts and crafts.

Anywhere you might be standing to carry out a task, you can squeeze in a couple of minutes of squats.

Squatting helps energize both the body and the mind and can provide a work-out for more than just your legs but helping to stretch the muscles in your bum and back and building on your core muscle strength too.


Step-ups are a great exercise that you can increase in intensity gradually by adding lifting weights when you feel ready.

Anywhere you have a step in your home (such as door thresholds or staircases) are perfect for carrying out step-ups and it won’t take much time out of your day for a great impact on your energy levels.

Simply step-up with the same leg ten-twenty times before switching to the other leg and repeat for as long as you can. If you are adding lifting weights to the exercise, keep your elbows close to your body and moving your hands from down by your side up towards your shoulders as you step up.

Dance or Zumba

There are no strict rules to dancing as a workout and Zumba workouts and it’s more about what you are capable of and how long you want to go for.

Both dance and Zumba can be as intense as you want to be and while classes are available, you might feel more comfortable to get started at home with your own preference of music and getting down to boogie in the middle of your living room.

Dancing is a fantastic way to exercise while enjoying yourself and is a great way to approach getting active when you don’t feel up to the same workout routines or the weather is putting you off going outdoors for a walk.

Putting It Into Practice

Fatigue is life-changing but it doesn’t mean that you are no longer capable, you just need to take each day as it comes and work toward building up more activity until you feel more comfortable doing higher intensity work-outs or even joining a class.

It’s difficult to recommend a series of exercises for fatigue as everybody experiences it differently but there are plenty of options available to ensure workout routines remain fresh and don’t demotivate you through the same old movements every day.

Why not create yourself a monthly plan that introduces a new exercise or routine every week? This way you can keep things interesting and ensure you remain motivated to keep active.

Further reading on energy levels and fatigue can be found in our article 6 Healthy Solutions to Boost Your Energy Levels and Reduce Chronic Fatigue.

About Theresa Duncan

Originally from Detroit, MI, Theresa has been offering health and fitness advice for the last 30 years while working as an engineer. She decided to turn her passion into a profession, and finds nothing more satisfying than helping others reach their health and fitness goals.

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