Exercise for Cancer Patients


It can be difficult for many healthy people to start exercising regularly, never mind a cancer patient. For optimal health, the CDC suggests a minimum of 2.5 hours of exercise every week, with two days of strength training for adults.

Those recommendations do not change for cancer patients. The only difference is how they exercise. It all depends on the havoc the cancer treatment and the disease has wreaked on the patient’s body.

Cancer Treatment and Exercise

The more radiation or chemotherapy treatments a patient undergoes the more fatigued the individual will feel. These types of cancer treatments are cumulative. It is important to work with your body. If you feel only slightly fatigued it is better to get in some activity rather than nothing at all. Allow yourself a recovery day if your body is completely fatigued.

Like it is for active healthy people, all four types of exercise are important for cancer patients: cardio, balance, strength training and stretching.

Exercising with Cancer

Here is a look at how each area affects cancer patients:

Cardio: Aerobic workouts that raise the heart rate include walking, swimming, bike riding and running. By including a healthy mix of cardio exercise with strength training, a person loses fat, build lean muscle and boost the metabolism.

Obesity increases the risk of developing cancer. For example, regular exercise can hinder the onset of breast cancer by up to 80 percent and lessen the likelihood of endometrial cancer and colon cancer by up to 40 percent.

Cardio exercises can also help patients better endure cancer treatments. Those who are physically fit, recover faster after surgery. But, a cancer patient may be too fatigued to put in a half hour workout each day. In these cases, just three 10-minute sessions of exercise a day will produce the same result. Walking can usually be done safely right after cancer treatment.

Strength: Weight-bearing exercises and strength training helps fight age-related muscle loss and improves bone density and muscle tone. Exercises can be performed with body weight, machines, barbells or dumbbells.

Since chemotherapy can rapidly accelerate bone loss, it is very important for cancer patients to strength train. Training with weights will not increase bone density, however, it will maintain it.

Balance: Good balance keeps us steady on our feet, it is vital for injury-free exercising. For cancer patients, some medications can interfere with proper balance. For individuals on chemo, the depleted bone mass makes it more dangerous to risk a fall.

Hence, balance exercises are an important part of any cancer patient’s workout routine. Simply walking in a narrow line, placing one foot in front of the other, or basic heel raises can improve balance.

Stretching: Breast cancer patients who have undergone surgery may experience weakness in the rotator cuff. Strengthening exercises can strengthen the shoulder area, improve mobility, and increase the range of motion post-mastectomy.

Before starting an exercise program, all cancer patients should first consult with their physician.

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