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How Can Lung Cancer Patients Exercise?

Cancer and its treatments have many side effects and may significantly reduce the quality of life. Research shows that exercise is helpful during lung cancer treatment. It helps in improving your quality of life and provides the energy to do your daily activity. Physical activity may also help reduce the side effects of cancer treatment and decrease your chances of future recurrence.

Resting or sitting for a long time may cause muscle weakness, loss of body function, and reduced range of motion. Many oncologists advise their patients to be as physically active as possible before, during and after cancer treatment.

Before starting exercise, you should take approval from your doctor. Start with gentle breathing exercises, stretching, aerobic exercise, and strength training, then gradually increase, even if you were physically active before your diagnosis. Due to treatment, if you have a compromised immune system, exercising in a large gym is not safe because germs can spread quickly on shared equipment. Instead, You should consider working with a physiotherapist, pulmonary rehabilitation specialist, or cancer exercise specialist in a safe environment.

Breathing exercises

Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing is very common in lung cancer patients, which can keep them from being active. That’s why it is always advised for lung cancer patients to start an exercise program with breathing exercises. Restoring breathing can help improve endurance, making it easier to complete daily work.

One key breathing exercise is “diaphragmatic breathing through pursed lips.” diaphragmatic breathing strengthens the diaphragm, which is a muscle between your lungs, your abdomen, and the abdominal muscles. This process allows more air to move in and out of the lungs with less tiring chest muscles. This exercise can also help you regulate your breathing if you experience shortness of breath during daily activity.

Follow these steps, and perform diaphragmatic breathing:

While sitting or standing up straight, keep your hand on your stomach.

Inhale through your nose while gently pushing your stomach out. The hand placed on your belly moves outward. This allows the diaphragm to lower, which increases lung capacity. 

Exhale slowly through tightly pressed lips while gently pushing inward and upward with the hand on the abdomen to help empty the lungs. Imagine pressing your belly button to your spine as you exhale all your air. Slowly inhale through your nose, filling your lungs with air. Repeat the exercise several times a day.

Stretching exercises

Stretching increases blood and oxygen flow to the muscles, improves muscle elasticity and helps the body repair itself. Daily upper-body stretching exercises expand the chest cavity and increase lung capacity. This process allows for free movement of the lungs and diaphragm, which encourages deeper breathing and helps with shortness of breath.

Lightly stretching other body parts can improve your range of motion and decrease body stiffness. This is particularly helpful after radiation therapy, which can cause muscle tightness. Stretching can also break down scar tissue caused by surgery.

In addition, stretching can help improve your posture. Sitting for long periods can cause your shoulders to round forward, decreasing lung capacity. Stretching is also highly helpful in managing the stress and anxiety of living with lung cancer.

It’s important to stretch regularly to improve and maintain your range of motion and flexibility gradually.

Aerobic exercise

Daily aerobic exercise is an excellent way to improve fitness for lung cancer patients. It strengthens the heart and improves oxygen capacity. Aerobic exercise includes walking, dancing, or any activity that increases your heart rate.

The goal is to eventually exercise for about 150 minutes a week, which is the same recommendation for healthy adults. It takes time to improve your fitness level, so progress slowly, set goals, and listen to your body. At first, you may tire quickly and only be able to exercise for a short period. But patience and practice will pay off if you work every day to lengthen the session. An excellent way to start exercise is in short sessions of 10 minutes each.

Aerobic exercise can be done when it is convenient, and there’s no need to join an expensive gym. Low-intensity exercise, such as walking, is a safe way to begin. You can start by walking around a room in the house, resting, and then walking around again. As you feel more confident, try to increase the distance slowly. This exercise can be done several times a day. Use a pedometer to count your steps and to help set and attain goals. You can also slowly increase activity by making small changes, like taking the stairs and parking further away from your destination than you have in the past.

Strength training

Strength training may benefit lung cancer patients because it can strengthen muscles weakened by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In addition, fatigue can cause lung cancer survivors to sit or lie in bed for long periods, causing them to lose muscle mass.

By getting stronger through strength training, it may be possible to return to work and take care of daily responsibilities sooner. Strength training can also help you improve your balance and posture. It will also increase your bone strength.

If you did strength training before the diagnosis, have patience. Resuming the same exercise routine at the same level is unrealistic. Your strength and endurance will have decreased, no matter how fit you were before treatment. It’s wise to follow the same exercise progression described above breathing, walking, stretching, and then strength training. However, you may be able to progress at a faster pace. Consult with your oncologist if you have questions or concerns about the exercise program that’s right for you.

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