There is strong evidence to suggest that exercise can reduce pain, make us stronger for daily function, and enhance our quality of life. There is also research that indicates that physical activity can potentially maximize cancer treatment options (Schmitz et al, 2019).
Even knowing this, we understand that it can be hard to adopt an exercise programme if you are dealing with fatigue and/or are in discomfort as a result of cancer treatment.
That’s why a cancer physiotherapy expert, and a cancer nurse specialist and yoga instructor from Perci Health have put together this handy guide. In it, they outline safe forms of exercise that you can do during cancer treatment, explore the benefits of such physical activity and discuss strategies to keep you safe.
Top tips for exercising during cancer treatment
Whether you want to begin exercising because you think it will improve your mood or you were very active before your treatment started and want to reintroduce workouts to your routine, these advice tops tips from the Perci Health professionals are sure to help get you started:
- Any movement is better than nothing.
- Pick an exercise or activity that you enjoy doing.
- Establish why you want to exercise – is it to increase your flexibility for instance, or to get you out of the house?
- Match your activity to your goals. For example, if you want an exercise that will help clear your head, then yoga may be ideal.
- Regardless of where the cancer is or has been, it is important to exercise your whole body.
- It is a good idea to pace yourself.
- Don’t be afraid of seeking support. Ask a friend to come on a dog walk or rope a family member into going along to an aquacise class with you.
What is the best exercise for cancer patients during treatment?
No one form of exercise is recommended to undertake during cancer treatment. Instead, it is more important that you engage in an activity that is suitable for your strength, pace, and stamina, and that you build up how much you do gradually.
When deciding on which type of exercise to do, it can be helpful to know its benefits. There are two broad varieties of physical activity:
This form of exercise increases your muscle strength and mass. It is usually characterised by high-intensity, high-power movements that require short bursts of energy. During anaerobic activity, the body breaks down glucose without using oxygen
Examples of anaerobic exercise include:
- Interval training
Ideally, this form of exercise would be undertaken three to four days a week.
This type of activity uses more oxygen and improves the way your heart (cardiovascular system) works. Examples of aerobic activity include:
- Brisk walking
Ideally, this exercise would be done five to six times a week.
It is recommended that you combine aerobic exercise & anaerobic strengthening, to reach a total of 150-300 minutes of activity per week.
We appreciate that 150 minutes of exercise per week can seem unreachable if you are new to exercise or have lost some strength during treatment. Therefore, start small. Even aiming for a few minutes each morning, increasing slowly each day is fantastic.
How can you exercise safely during cancer treatment?
You may question the impact that exercise will have on your body, in addition to the side effects of cancer treatment. To keep yourself as safe as possible, it’s a good idea to keep these three things in mind:
- Ensure you can distinguish between exercise soreness and other pain.
- Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is common after exercise. It usually lasts 3-5 days and is a good indicator that you have been working your muscles.
- If you experience shooting, searing, stabbing, or catching pains you should lessen the intensity or stop the activity and contact your primary care team.
- Peripheral neuropathy can be a side effect of chemotherapy. Exercise won’t worsen neuropathy but does have huge benefits on walking tolerance, strength, safety, and function.
- If you are having issues with balance, pick an activity where you are on both feet and even terrain.
- Appropriate footwear is incredibly important when exercising.
- If your white blood cell count is low, it is recommended that you exercise in place which reduces your likelihood of catching an infection.
- If you have low platelet counts, which affects blood clotting, pick activities which reduce the risk of muscular tearing or falling.