Is it safe to exercise?

Problems can happen when you push it too hard—so you want to make sure you are staying within the limits of what your body can handle right now.

If you are getting any kind of cancer treatment, or have in the past, you need to talk to your doctor to figure out an exercise plan that is safe and fun for you.


• If your blood counts are low and you are at risk for infection, anemia or bleeding. • If the minerals in your blood, such as sodium and potassium, are not normal (this is likely to be the case if you have been vomiting or having diarrhea).

• If you are taking treatments that affect your lungs or heart, or are at risk for lung or heart disease. Instead, consult your physician first, then watch for swollen ankles, sudden weight gain, or shortness of breath.

• If you have unrelieved pain, nausea, vomiting, or other health concerns. Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Tips for Working Out

• Do not work too hard if you are taking blood pressure medication that controls your heart rate.

• Do not hold your breath, as this may put a strain on your heart.

• Do not exercise on uneven surfaces that could cause you to fall.

• If you have bone disease, poor vision, poor balance, or weakness, do not use heavy weights or perform excessive weight bearing exercises.

• Watch for signs of internal or external bleeding if you are taking blood thinners.

• If you have swelling, pain, dizziness, or blurred vision, discontinue all exercise and call your physician immediately.


What’s the best way to get back into exercising if it’s been a long time?

If it has been a long time since you’ve exercised and feel like your energy level is really low, it’s good for you to get moving, even if it’s just 30 minutes a day. Remember to take it easy.

If you are getting any kind of cancer treatment, or have in the past, you need to talk to your doctor to figure out an exercise plan that is safe and fun for you.

But here are some easy, low-impact activities to try:

• pleasure walking

• climbing stairs

• dancing

• home exercise

• playing video games that get you up out of a chair onto your feet with Wii or Xbox Kinect

If you are getting any kind of cancer treatment, or have in the past, you need to talk to your doctor to figure out an exercise plan that is safe and fun for you.

What exercise program is right for me?

It depends on your treatment and how you are feeling. You can work out at home, with a CHOC physical therapist or a personal trainer.

You can make the program fit your needs by changing any of three factors: frequency, intensity, or time.

It’s best to start with low-intensity, short-duration activities three days a week. As your body adjusts and gets stronger, you can gradually work a little harder and a little longer at each session. A typical program might have you do aerobic and strengthening exercise on alternate days. You might start with five- to 10-minute sessions and work up to as much as 40 minutes over 15 weeks.

Strengthening exercises will keep your muscles strong so you can perform daily chores with greater ease. Walking and other aerobic activities will increase your endurance. It may take weeks or months for some people to regain their energy. Once chemotherapy is finished, though, normal cells recover. The side effects, including fatigue, ease.

Exercise can help you take charge of your body. You can take responsibility for getting well and feeling better through regular participation. Being active, rather than passive, in the process of recovery will give you strength, courage, and confidence as your treatment continues.

If you are getting any kind of cancer treatment, or have in the past, you need to talk to your doctor to figure out an exercise plan that is safe and fun for you.

My chemotherapy has me feeling really awful. How can exercise make me less tired?

Each person responds differently to cancer treatment. Your reaction depends on the particular chemotherapy drug you are given. It also depends on your health, as well as the type and extent of cancer.

Some people are able to continue with their work and daily activities. Most people receiving chemotherapy, though, have fatigue, insomnia, depression, loss of appetite and nausea. Cancer-related fatigue is unlike the fatigue you feel after a hard day’s work. It is an extreme mental and physical tiredness that doesn’t get better with rest.

In fact, it has been estimated that 70 to 100 percent of people who receive chemotherapy feel fatigue so extreme that rest doesn’t help. The fatigue keeps them from working or managing their households.

Your doctor can help reduce the fatigue by giving you medication to increase your production of red cells. He or she may also recommend an exercise program.

People undergoing chemotherapy often feel too weak to start a major exercise program. But even light exercise, such as a daily walk around the block, can help. Plus, many stretching and weight-training exercises can be tailored to your capabilities and done while sitting or lying down.

The American Cancer Society says that people receiving chemotherapy who also exercise experience these benefits:

  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Less decline in physical functioning
  • Significantly less fatigue and emotional distress
  • Better sleep
  • Increased self-esteem and confidence
  • Fewer side effects

How can exercise help the feelings I am having?

Staying active can help you deal with the emotional ups and downs of cancer. Exercise improves a person’s overall mood because it releases hormones that reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Some research has even found that exercise helps keep the mind sharp and improving memory.

There are a lot of things you can’t control while on cancer—unpleasant side effects from various treatments, missing friends or school because of your treatment.

Exercise is something you can control and it can help you:

  • Sleep better at night. Research has shown that staying active during the day and can make it much easier to fall asleep at night.
  • Control your weight. Some treatments include the use of steroids and exercise can help counteract the weight gain that can come from the use of these medications.
  • Keep your bones strong. Bone loss is another side effect of some cancer therapies and exercise can help maintain your bone density.
  • Stay in touch with your friends and family by setting up “exercise buddies” to help keep you motivated.

Can exercise help people with cancer?

Exercise can be a great addition to many treatment regimens. Scientists are still learning about how physical activity helps cancer patients and what impact it has on the immune system.

Sometimes if you aren’t getting enough activity, it can make you even more sluggish and tired—making it harder to carry on normal activities while undergoing treatment.
Studies have shown that for some cancer patients regular physical activity can accomplish the following:

  • Reduce anxiety or depression
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Improve blood flow to the legs and reduce the risk of blood clots
  • Reduce pain
  • Reduce diarrhea and constipation
  • Prevent osteoporosis
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Increase overall physical functioning
  • Reduce dependence on others for the activities of daily living
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Lift mood