Exercise for Cancer Patients

Living with cancer is hard, and it takes a lot out of you — physically and mentally. When you’re fighting chronic illness, exercise is probably the last thing on your mind. In the past, doctors told their patients to rest and avoid activity. However, new research shows that exercise is safe for most cancer patients.

In fact, many cancer care teams encourage exercise during cancer treatment. Not only does physical movement help you function better, but it also improves your quality of life. The traditional advice still holds true when exercise causes pain, rapid heart rate or breathing problems. Otherwise, find an activity you enjoy and get moving.

Exercise Benefits for Cancer Patients

Rest is important when you’re fighting cancer, but too much of it can lead to loss of body function. Inactivity causes muscle weakness and lowers your range of motion. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), exercise has many benefits for cancer patients.

Exercise improves your physical abilities so you can continue to perform your everyday tasks. It improves balance, which reduces your risk of falls, sprains and broken bones. Exercise also keeps your muscles from wasting due to bed rest or inactivity.

Physical movement lowers your risk of other chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. It helps you control your weight. It also improves your self-esteem and lowers your risk of anxiety and depression.

If you’re going through chemotherapy, exercise can lessen nausea, fatigue and other symptoms associated with cancer treatment. It makes you less dependent on others for normal, daily living and improves your general well-being.

Appropriate Exercise Choices

The ACS recommends exercise for cancer patients before, during and after treatment. Aim for 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, and include strength training workouts twice a week. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, and stop exercising if it causes pain, fatigue, heart or lung problems.

You’re more likely to stick with an exercise program if it’s easy and fun. Many cancer patients exercise by walking, jogging, swimming or performing water aerobics. Others enjoy alternative therapies like yoga or tai chi. Ask your friends or family members to join you, and record your progress with charts or a journal. Don’t forget to celebrate your achievements along the way.

Getting Started

Regular exercise is a tall order for many healthy people, so if you have cancer, an exercise program can be very hard to start. Stretch well, take short walks and start your activities slowly. You can always build up as you grow stronger and develop endurance.

If a full-fledged exercise program seems impossible right now, start by adding more physical activities to your daily routine. Take a walk after dinner, ride your bike through the neighborhood, scrub your bathroom or rake the leaves. Gardening, dancing and walking your dog are other good ways to get active.

As long as it’s not painful, exercise is a good complement to traditional cancer treatment. It can be helpful during treatment and recovery. Regular exercise can reduce treatment side effects, shorten recovery time, improve your overall fitness and enhance your quality of life.

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