Keep moving during cancer treatment

August 17, 2016 | by Christine Gresik, MD

The benefits of exercising extend beyond weight management and a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is an important part of cancer treatment. New research has shown that exercise during cancer treatment is not only safe and possible, but it can help improve how you function and increase your quality of life. Too much rest can lead to loss of body function, muscle weakness and reduce range of motion.

The American Cancer Society says during cancer treatment, regular exercise may help you:

  • Keep or improve your physical abilities (how well you can use your body to do things)
  • Improve balance, lower risk of falls and broken bones
  • Keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity
  • Lower the risk of heart disease
  • Lessen the risk of osteoporosis (weak bones that are more likely to break)
  • Improve blood flow to your legs and lower the risk of blood clots
  • Make you less dependent on others for help with normal activities of daily living
  • Lower the risk of being anxious and depressed
  • Lessen nausea
  • Improve your ability to keep social contacts
  • Lessen symptoms of tiredness (fatigue)
  • Control your weight

Before beginning an exercise program, talk to your doctor to determine an exercise plan that is best for you. The type of cancer you have, your treatment and stamina will determine your fitness ability.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends breaking up your exercise into three 10-minute walks during the day. You can also listen to music to make walks more enjoyable, invite a friend to exercise with you, or enroll in a yoga class to keep your body strong.

As you begin to exercise start slowly, work at your own pace and proceed with caution -- if you try to do too much, you may become exhausted and discouraged. If you have any pain, tightness or shortness of breath, stop exercising and talk to your doctor.

Keep in mind there are other forms of physical activity you can do like gardening, cleaning the house or swimming to get your body moving. Many hospitals and health clubs also offer exercise classes suited for people with cancer.

If you find it difficult to exercise because you often feel tired and fatigued, focus on:

  • Setting up a daily routine that lets you be active when you feel your best
  • Getting fresh air
  • Eating a balanced diet that includes protein (meat, milk, eggs and legumes such as peas or beans). Ask your doctor what meal plan is right for you.
  • Drinking about 8 to 10 glasses of water a day unless your doctor tells you not to.
  • Keeping things you often use within easy reach to save energy.
  • Using relaxation and visualization techniques to reduce stress.
  • Balancing activity with rest that does not interfere with nighttime sleep.
  • Asking for help when you need it.

Whatever activity you choose, listen to what your body tells you and make time to rest. 

Learn more about cancer support services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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