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