Exercise for Cancer Patients: Fitness After Treatment
Exercise can help cancer patients maximize health for the long term. Here's how to get started.
Exercise for Cancer Patients: When to Start
When should you start exercising after cancer diagnosis and treatment?
"As soon as possible," emphasizes Courneya.
Studies show that after a cancer diagnosis, people slow down. Stress,
depression, and feeling sick or fatigued from cancer or its treatment all tend
to make people less active.
The problem is, most people stay sedentary after treatment
"As a long-term solution to the problem of fatigue, taking it easy and
avoiding activity is not a good solution," says Courneya. "It is
important for cancer survivors to get back to exercising to help their
In other words: if you've down-shifted your activity level since your cancer
diagnosis, now is the time to rev back up.
Exercise for Cancer Patients: What to Do
Every person's situation is different. Before starting a moderate to
vigorous exercise program, see your doctor.
The following types of exercise can help cancer patients - and everyone else
- get back in shape:
- Flexibility exercises (stretching). Virtually everyone can do flexibility
exercises. "Stretching is important to keep moving, to maintain
mobility," says Doyle. If you're not yet ready for more vigorous exercise,
you should at least stay flexible.
- Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, and swimming. This kind
of exercise burns calories and helps you lose weight. Aerobic exercise also
builds cardiovascular fitness, which lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke,
- Resistance training (Iifting weights or isometric exercise), which builds
muscle. Many people lose muscle, but gain fat, through cancer treatment. For
those with a high fat-to-lean mass ratio, "resistance training can be
especially helpful," says Doyle.
"Ideally, cancer survivors should do aerobic exercises and weight
training," says Courneya. "Both types of exercise are critical to the
overall health and well-being of cancer survivors."
An exercise specialist can help design the right program for you. Seek
someone certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Exercise for Cancer Patients: How Much and How Hard?
For the general population, the American Cancer Society recommends "at
least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 5
days a week."
This amount of exercise is proven to reduce the risk of cancer,
cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Experts say it that it should also be
beneficial for cancer patients.
Unless you're already very active, though, you shouldn't expect yourself to
achieve this right away. As with anything else, the key is to set small,
achievable goals and build on your successes.
"If you've already been active -- keep it up!" says Doyle. "If
you haven't been active, start slowly, but start something."
Try to find an activity you enjoy. You may want to buddy up with
someone at the same fitness level. Having a friend to work out with will
increase your motivation.