How Exercising can Battle Cancer Treatment Side Effects


The idea of exercising incites terror in healthy people, let alone patients undergoing cancer treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults and cancer patients alike to engage in moderate exercise for at least 2.5 hours a week and muscle-strengthening activities for about two days a week. For cancer patients, the choice of exercising method depends on the toll cancer has taken, and the cancer treatment side effects say, Josie Gardiner, co-author of “The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Fitness Plan.” Gardiner continues that the more chemotherapy and radiotherapy a cancer patient undergoes, the more the fatigue the cancer patient would feel. She usually advises the countless cancer patients and survivors whom she has worked with to listen to their bodies. “Rate fatigue on a scale of 4,” Gardiner reminds her clients. Rating would help determine whether to go through strenuous workouts. If you are extremely fatigued, then it’s better to give your body some rest, but if you rate your fatigue at 1 or 2, then doing something is better than doing nothing.


Exercising and Cancer Patients


Earlier, doctors would advise patients diagnosed with chronic illnesses against any form of physical activity. At the time, this piece of advice made sense if the tiniest movement caused pain, an accelerated heart rate, or difficulty in breathing. But recent studies reveal new findings regarding exercises and cancer patients. Engaging in physical activities isn’t just safe, but it comes with numerous benefits for cancer patients, such as improving the quality of life and function of the body. Research further points out that too much rest can adversely affect body functioning, weaken muscles, and lessen the range of motion. Many cancer care providers urge patients to be as active as possible during and after cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.


Benefits of exercising regularly during cancer treatment


  • Improves body functioning and movement of limbs
  • Enhances physical balance, which reduces the chances of falling and breaking bones
  • Prevents weakening of muscles resulting from inactivity
  • Reduces risks of contracting heart diseases and osteoporosis (weakening and breaking of bones)
  • Enhances the blood flow and prevents blood clots
  • Makes you believe in self-help to conduct day-to-day activities
  • Boosts your self-esteem
  • Reduces nausea, depression, and anxiety
  • Helps control weight and reduces fatigue
  • Enables you to keep up with social contacts
  • Improves the quality of life


Research has yet to prove whether exercise is the ultimate cure to cancer, but it vouches for the fact that regular moderate exercise has positive effects on the physical and mental wellbeing of cancer patients.


The four types of exercises cancer patients must try out.


Josie Gardiner says that the four types of exercises important for healthy adults are essential for patients battling cancer too. They include:


  • Aerobics: Aerobic exercises can increase the heart rate, burn calories (thereby helping you to maintain your body weight), decrease fat, and increase the metabolism of your body apart from building lean muscle mass. Aerobics can also reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Gardiner thinks walking exercises would be the best place to start for patients getting cancer treatment.


  • Strength: Strength training exercises can help enhance muscle tone and overcome muscle loss, characteristic of aging. Training with dumbbells, weight machines, and barbells are common alternatives. Bone density differs for healthy adults and cancer patients. A woman undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy can lose bone density within a year as much as an average woman would lose within a decade. Hence, it is vital to partake in weight-bearing and strength exercises to build bone density and to maintain it through and through. It would be wise to consult a doctor regarding strength training regimen if you are undergoing cancer treatment, suggests Gardiner. 


  • Balance: Having the right balance is a must for a workout to be void of slipping and tripping. Some cancer patients complain of clumsiness, caused by specific drugs known to impair balance. Additionally, for most patients, chemotherapy would result in affected bone mass, and for them, one fall has the unfortunate luck of breaking bones. Therefore, it is vital to include balance exercises, such as walking down a narrow pathway and heel raises in your fitness plan.


  • Stretching: Patients who have undergone surgery for cancer might feel weakness in specific areas of their body. Stretching exercises can help regain the strength and mobility of the affected body part. For instance, breast cancer surgeries may cause weakness at shoulder girdles. Women who underwent surgery for breast cancer would have to walk their arms up a wall to improve their range of motion. Gardiner recommends talking to your doctor before indulging in stretching exercises.


It’s all about having fun.

Take exercising as a light activity instead of labeling it as ‘burdensome.’ Sure, cancer patients can’t get to exercise at the pace of a healthy adult, but that’s because of the fatigue caused by various cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Your goal is to be physically active as much as you can. Increase your exercising goals with each passing day and build yourself as you go. Stay safe, have fun, and make your fitness plan fit you well.