Exercise For Cancer Patients: Its More Important Than You Think!

Hi Friends of Oompf, it’s Alvan here. Today I will be talking about exercise recommendations for cancer patients, considerations that cancer patients should take note of while exercising, as well as suggest various exercises that cancer patients can perform at home.

Medical Conditions And Exercise
All of us experience some kind of medical condition at some point in our lives. Some of us may experience some serious ailments like coronary heart disease or hypertension or even cancer. Even so, not all cancers need be devastating. As with many illnesses, the period of recuperation, remission and/or rehabilitation is very important. What is the role of exercise then when one is struck with illness? Should one still exercise? Generally, research shows that anyone that has any kind of chronic illnesses such as Cancer, Osteoarthritis, and Hypertension can benefit from doing exercise. This is validated by the summary report of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee (see reference link below).

The benefits of exercise for all ages include the following:

  • Lower risk of getting diagnosed with chronic illnesses.
  • Improved bone health
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Lesser symptoms of depression
  • Reduced risk of dementia

Cancer And Exercise

According to (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2018, 84) (source referenced below) shows that cancer survivors (post treatment) should engage in regular physical activity for its many health benefits.
For adults with breast, colon, or prostate cancer, greater amounts of physical activity helps to lower the risk of dying from their cancer. Cancer survivors who are physically active have a better quality of life, improved fitness and physical function, and less fatigue.

Physical activity also plays a role in reducing the adverse effects of cancer treatment. Therefore, it is beneficial in all stages of cancer – pre during and post treatment.
Recommendation And Type Of Exercise For Cancer Patients

According to (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2018, 81)* (referenced below) adults with chronic conditions or disabilities including cancer should be able to do:

Cardiovascular Training

  • At least 150 – 300 minutes a week of moderate intensity
  • 75 – 150 minutes of vigorous activity
  • Or an equivalent combination.

Consideration: aerobic activity would be best evenly spread out through the week. For example, the patient can do 30 minutes of aerobic moderate intensity 5 times a week to equate to at least 150 minutes/week.

Resistance Training

Do muscle strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity which involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

Cancer patients can do cardiovascular and resistance training and not forgetting flexibility as well such as stretching exercises for added health benefits. Of course, if they are not able to meet the guidelines, intensity and frequency should be tailored according to their abilities and should avoid inactivity.

Can cancer patients do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?

(U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018) (source referenced below), has examined the benefits of HIIT and they found similar benefits such as reduction in cardiovascular disease risk factors as compared to continuous moderate intensity cardiovascular activities.

Therefore, as long as the cancer patient is capable and fit enough to be able to do HIIT, they can do so. If they have some limitations such as disabilities and poor fitness level, a better alternative would be continuous moderate intensity cardiovascular activities.

Considerations When Starting An Exercise Program During Cancer Treatment

Slow Progression
According to The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Cancer-Related Fatigue 5, the advice is starting slowly and progressing incrementally.
Depending on fitness and comfort level, some people may want to start with a 10-minute walk around the block; others may find they can exercise for 20 minutes (or longer) right away. Your goal should be at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week or more.

Excessive amount
Do not do too much as well. You may become discouraged and stop exercising altogether.

If you were exercising regularly before cancer, you may have to lower the intensity of workouts for quite some time.

Some additional suggestions that may be useful:

  • Break it up further if you cannot handle a longer duration of aerobic activity. Try three 10 minute walks during the day.
  • Make exercise enjoyable by getting a partner to do it with you or simply just music to accompany you along with the run, swim or bike ride.
  • With exercising, you must warm up with simple movements and cool down with gentle stretches.
  • Simply be more active. Be it climbing stairs instead of taking a lift or even doing some gardening or house cleaning, all of these activities provide some sort of physical workouts.
  • Consider yoga and tai chi. They are beneficial because they promote mobility, flexibility and even meditation for mind and body wellness.
  • If on radiation therapy, avoid swimming pools; they can expose you to bacteria that may cause infections and the chlorine may irritate radiated skin.
  • Lastly, listen to your body. If you are really not feeling well, take a break. You can always exercise another day.

Exercise At Home
There are some simple exercises cancer patients can definitely do at home. Here is a list of resistance based exercises that pretty much cover every part of your body:
1. Squat
2. Lunge
3. Overhead press
4. Push ups
5. Rows
6. Plank (30s/set or even lesser if cannot handle)
7. Glute Bridge
8. Lateral banded walk

You can do 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions for each of these exercises. By all means, if you are feeling fitter and stronger, please increase the number of sets or add a load to the exercises (such as dumbbells, barbells or resistance bands). If you have already added an external resistance, you can proceed to increase further.

This article is intended to be a guide only and does not represent any medical advice. It is recommended that one should always listen to one’s own body, and seek medical advice before embarking on any exercise regime if you are suffering, under treatment for, or recuperating from cancer or other serious illnesses.

*Additional Considerations for Some Adults of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd Ed2 &Ed3
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2018. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. 2nd ed. Washington, DC.

2. American College Of Sports Medicine. 2018. The power Of Physical Activity.

3. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. 2020. Exercising During Cancer Treatment.


Recent Posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top