Chemo and exercise? Is it really possible or even safe to exercise when you are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation?
This is a question you may be asking if you are undergoing treatment for a cancer. We all know exercise is good for us, but when you are feeling fatigued from treatment or fragile from your diagnosis, fitness may be the furthest thing from your mind.
The bottom line, however, is research shows that getting your body moving during chemo or radiation can actually help you feel better.
“It may require considerable effort to get up and move around, but increasing your physical activity may actually reduce fatigue,” according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. “Studies show that cancer patients who exercise are less tired and depressed and sleep better than patients who don’t exercise.”
In addition to helping improve fatigue, exercise is a known mood booster, offering drug-free relief from the feelings of depression that may accompany a cancer diagnosis. Exercise also helps control weight and increase muscle strength, joint flexibility and general conditioning.
If you have been away from fitness for some time or if you have any questions or concerns regarding your ability to participate in an exercise program it would be prudent to seek the advice of a physical therapist who specializes in working with cancer patients before getting started.
A physical therapist will have specific exercise recommendations for anyone managing lymphedema, a chronic arm swelling that affects some breast cancer patients after lymph node removal.
The best time to begin thinking about implementing a new exercise routine is before treatment gets underway.
“It is important to discuss with your doctor or physical therapist the type of exercise you are considering to ensure it will be safe,” states the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
While the goal should be at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least 5 days a week or more, anyone undergoing treatment should start small and progress incrementally. Walking is generally safe for a large segment of the population. Start with a 10-minute walk around the block and slowly work your way up by adding time each week.
If you are already a gym rat it might be necessary to ease up a bit on intensity level while you are in the middle of treatment.
Team Survivor Northwest provides two walking programs – Urban Walking and Nordic Walking – that are free to members and a lot of fun. This would be a wonderful way for anyone undergoing treatment in the Puget Sound area to ease back into fitness or to maintain a previously established fitness level during treatment.
Both walking programs are gentle in intensity level yet effective in helping combat treatment-related fatigue. For information on these programs, go HERE.
While in general, exercise during chemotherapy can be safe, there are circumstances when it is not advised.
For a good comprehensive list of when to avoid exercise during treatment, go HERE. But in general do not exercise if:
- You have extreme fatigue, anemia or lack of muscle coordination.
- Your immune system is compromised and your white blood cell count is low.
For questions about the best type of exercise for you, please refer to your doctor or physical therapist.