Staying active may lessen symptoms of chemo brain

December 29, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Time and again, studies have shown that exercise can improve overall health and reduce risks for chronic illness.

Now, a new study suggests staying physically active can help women with breast cancer maintain memory and cognitive function and avoid “chemo brain.”

Roughly 75 percent of breast cancer patient report having cognitive impairment during chemotherapy. For many, symptoms of “chemo brain” or “chemo fog” can include memory loss, difficulty concentrating, confusion and a shorter attention span.

Often, the condition can linger months after chemotherapy has ended.

But, in a study of more than 500 breast cancer patients, researchers found that women who met minimum national standards for exercise (150 minutes of exercise per week) during their treatment performed better on cognitive tests than those who were inactive. Even women who were active before treatment began, but were inactive during treatment, performed better than those who were inactive during treatment, according to the findings.

Studies have also suggested that exercise has other health benefits such as boosting your mood, aiding in sleep, improving your energy levels and strengthening your bones. Exercising can also help you maintain a healthy weight and help lower your risk for chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.

While exercising has many benefits, it is important (particularly for those undergoing medical treatments) to recognize your body’s needs and limitations and to rest when you need rest.

Don’t beat yourself up if your body is telling you it can’t go for a long walk. Rest if you need to. Or, if you feel you can go for a shorter walk, like down your driveway, do that and remember that some movement is better than none.

If you want to start an exercise routine, consider these tips:

  • Talk to your doctor. Be sure you let your cancer care team know that you’d like to start exercising and discuss a plan with your team. Keep your team informed of any health changes that could affect your exercise plan.
  • If you need to, take small steps. You don’t need to go for a mile run to see the benefit of regular exercise. Taking a brisk walk or going for a bike ride is beneficial. Even walking laps around your house or up and down your hallway can help.
  • Break up your exercise time. You don’t have to get in 30 minutes of exercise at once. You can break it up into smaller chunks and do 10 minutes at a time if needed. The goal is to get moving.
  • Check in with local breast cancer survivors groups. They may have a walking club or exercise group that you can join.

Making exercise part of your routine can provide many lifelong benefits. Find more information about how to make exercise part of your routine here.

Learn more about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Related blogs:

Why and how to stay active during cancer treatment

7 ways to kick chemo brain


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