Why and how to stay active during treatment

September 27, 2017 | by Hollis W. Walker, M.D.

Our bodies are meant to exercise. When we don’t exercise, our bodies become weaker, we lose muscle mass and our energy decreases. These are one of the many reasons why it is so important to keep moving through cancer treatment.  

Regular exercise has many benefits for people with cancer. It can help to:

  • Maintain or improve your physical abilities 
  • Improve balance, lower the risk of falls and broken bones
  • Keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity
  • Lower the risk of heart disease and lessen the risk of osteoporosis 
  • 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
  • Improve your self-esteem and lower the risk of being anxious and depressed
  • Reduce side effects like nausea and symptoms of tiredness
  • Help you control your weight
  • Improve your ability to keep social contacts 
  • Improve your quality of life during treatment and recovery

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should engage in at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week (like brisk walking) and in muscle-strengthening activities that work your major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest) on two or more days a week.

That doesn’t mean you should run a marathon without doctor supervision. Your exercise routine should be based on your health, certain medications you are taking, and your treatment plan. Your doctor can recommend an exercise routine that would be best for you.

If you are just starting to exercise, here are some good rules of thumb from the American Society of Clinical Oncology:

  1. Set clear goals. Set specific, achievable, short-term and long-term exercise goals. No matter what goals you set, you can adjust them to reflect changes in your health, work and family life. 
  2. Exercise when your energy levels are high. Your pain and fatigue levels can change from day to day or even from hour to hour. Track your energy level throughout the day to find your best time to exercise. 
  3. Keep your routine flexible. Rule #1 when it comes to exercise is to listen to your body. Don’t feel like you need to follow a strict exercise schedule. While consistency is important, you may need to adjust your routine or certain exercises as you work through physical or emotional side effects.
  4. Be patient. Your recovery speed depends on your pre-treatment fitness level and the type of treatments you had. If you’re new to exercise, don’t rush. Slowly add an activity you feel comfortable doing. As you feel better, you can increase the level of that activity or add another one.
  5. Choose to walk. Try to make walking a part of your exercise plan. Walking, even if it’s just in your house to start, can help you regain strength. Start with short walks and go a little farther each time. Find a walking buddy to help keep you motivated. 

In addition to aerobics and strength training, you should also integrate balance and stretching exercises into your lifestyle. Simple exercises like as walking a narrow path and putting one foot in front of the other, as if you are walking a tightrope can improve balance. So grab a friend and get moving! 

How do you incorporate exercise into your lifestyle? Tell us in the below comments. 

Related blogs:
Step into a walking program: Start smart, walk strong
When it comes to fitness, baby steps are the best
How exercise can keep you from falling

 

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