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Exercising Before, During and After Cancer Treatments

Categories: Cancer Management, Nutrition and Exercise

November 20, 2019

If you have recently received a cancer diagnosis or you’re currently undergoing treatment, it is important that you put focus on taking special care of yourself. This includes eating healthy foods, getting enough rest, and incorporating physical activity into your routine - research strongly suggests that exercise is a wonderful way to care for yourself.

Exercise before, during, and after cancer treatments can improve your quality of life by:

  • Helping to ease cancer treatment side effects such as fatigue, pain, and bone and muscle loss.
  • Fueling your appetite, which is sometimes reduced due to the medicines and side effects.
  • Reducing stress.
  • Increasing blood flow throughout your body, to promote healing.
  • Boosting your self-esteem.
  • Giving you a sense of control.
  • Lowering the risk of heart disease, which is important for everyone, even patients with cancer.

This doesn’t mean that cancer patients should be committed to a heavy-duty workout program. And since rest is also important, a good balance of the two is critical. By keeping some form of physical activity in your daily life, you’re taking a positive step toward improving your quality of life as a cancer survivor.  

How to Find the Right Exercise Routine

Since certain factors like the stage of your cancer, types of treatments, and the amount of stamina you have may limit what you can handle, it’s important to speak with your oncologist before beginning any exercise program. Together, you can develop an exercise plan that’s safe, enjoyable, and right for you.

The American Cancer Society, recommends that you avoid inactivity and return to normal activity as soon as possible after diagnosis, but this looks different for every cancer patient.

If you were not physically active before your diagnosis, start slowly and carefully. For those who lead active lifestyles, don’t get discouraged if you can’t maintain your original fitness level. The goal is to stay as active and fit as your abilities and condition allow.

For cancer survivors (those who have finished cancer treatment), the American Cancer Society recommends aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, with strength training accounting for at least two of those days. Start slowly, gradually increasing the intensity of your activities as well as the amount of time you spend exercising as you get stronger. Read more about physical activity for cancer survivors.

Getting Started

It may seem difficult, but you’ve got this! Even small amounts of exercise are better than none , the key is consistency. Some days you may feel stronger and can do a little bit more than other days, and that’s OK.   

Here are some ideas for how to be more physically active during and after your cancer treatment according to the American Cancer Society:

  1. Stretching
  2. Walking or biking to your destination
  3. Walking the treadmill while watching TV
  4. Taking the stairs rather than the elevator
  5. Weeding the garden
  6. Mowing the grass
  7. Going dancing
  8. Yoga or balance exercises
  9. Lifting weights or strength training

Variety is key. Mixing up your intensity and the length of time you exercise can help keep you motivated and make exercising more enjoyable. Working out with a friend can also help you avoid becoming bored with your routine.

If you enjoy group exercise programs, or would like an instructor who is experienced in the types of exercises performed by cancer patients there are several options available. Yoga4cancer offers instructors in the Virginia Beach and Norfolk areas to help cancer patients and survivors build strength and feel in greater control. LIVESTRONG at the YMCA has programs in Newport News, Smithville, Yorktown, and Heathsville, VA that are designed to help cancer survivors begin the journey toward recovery.

The sooner you start exercising, the better you’ll feel. As you strive to become more active, however, remember to keep it safe, fun, and manageable.

Free Cancer Survivorship Guidebook