Exercise and Cancer Treatment
Many cancer patients say their energy levels are low and that they lack motivation during cancer treatment. Exercise can help you feel better and improve your emotional outlook as well.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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You may not realize it when dealing with cancer side effects like fatigue, lack of appetite, and nausea, but exercise can be wonderful for cancer patients — it's actually a good idea to get moving. With cancer, fitness is an important aspect of your recovery.
Exercise and Cancer: Physical Benefits of Cancer Fitness
If you can muster the energy and motivation to exercise, you will gain numerous physical benefits that will help in your recovery, including:
- Improved circulation with a reduced risk of blood clots
- Improved muscle strength
- Healthier body weight
- Better management of nausea and fatigue
- Reduced osteoporosis risk because of stronger bones
- Improved heart health
- Increased appetite and interest in food
- Improved physical function and balance
Exercise and Cancer: Emotional Benefits of Cancer Fitness
Your emotional health, a component of well-being that is often neglected when undergoing cancer treatment, can also benefit from exercise. You may find yourself with:
- Better confidence in yourself and your abilities
- Better quality of life
- A sense of empowerment
- Improved mood and state of mind
- Greater confidence in your ability to beat cancer
- Greater independence
- Reduced risk of depression or anxiety
- Improved relationships and social activity
Exercise and Cancer: Setting Goals
Exercise is good for cancer patients, but that doesn't mean you should necessarily run a marathon or exercise as much as you did before you started cancer treatment. Set new goals based on your current abilities. Be sure to consider:
- The stage and type of your cancer
- The treatment you're undergoing
- How much exercise you're physically able to handle
- What your doctor says is safe for you to do
Your goals should be to keep yourself feeling good and stay as healthy as possible during your cancer treatment — exercise should make you feel better, not worse. Consider working with a physical therapist or other specialist who has experience with cancer patients and can design the best exercise program for you.
Exercise and Cancer: Creating Your Routine
What's important is variety — you want to work different parts of your body for better strength. Be sure to incorporate:
- Good cardiovascular exercises to work your heart: Consider walking or swimming.
- Exercises to improve balance and flexibility: Yoga and tai chi are great options.
- Muscle-strengthening exercises: Try light weightlifting.
Even daily chores can count as exercise — cleaning house, working in the garden, or mowing the lawn are all good activities, plus you will feel that you're getting tasks accomplished on your own.
Try these strategies to keep yourself interested in exercise:
- Exercise with a buddy — it will be more fun, and you'll have someone there in case you start to feel weak or sick.
- Stay motivated with a variety of exercise, like playing a sport or taking a new class such as martial arts or an exotic dance style.
- Be sure to allow yourself periods of rest to help build your stamina for exercise and heal from your cancer treatment.
- Never push yourself beyond your limits, which may not be the same as before your cancer diagnosis.
Remember to get your doctor’s go-ahead before embarking on an exercise program, and keep your fitness routine safe, enjoyable, and healthy.
Video: Cancer Exercise
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