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Exercise for Cancer Patients: Fitness After Treatment

Exercise can help cancer patients maximize health for the long term. Here's how to get started.
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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.

Whatever you do, don't get discouraged. Doing anything is better than doing nothing.

"The key is to start slowly and build your body's energy over time," says Courneya. "Your body has been through a lot and it is necessary to challenge it gradually."

You can increase your physical activity without joining a gym, or even leaving the house. Just building more activity into your daily routine can get you started. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Take the stairs instead of riding the elevator.
  • Buy a pedometer (step counter) and increase your number of steps daily.
  • Take frequent breaks throughout the day to stand, stretch, and take short walks.
  • Check the pantry. Lifting cans, detergent bottles, or anything heavy will build muscle. Do three sets of 10 lifts, or until you feel your muscles tiring.

What if you're just too exhausted to exercise?

"Sometimes fatigue can be so severe that it is good to rest" temporarily, according to Courneya. Rest for awhile, start again slowly and build up. Your energy level will increase, over the long term.

Exercise for Cancer Patients: What to Watch Out For

Are there any downsides to exercise for cancer patients?

"The risks for cancer survivors are not too different from the general population," says Courneya. Musculoskeletal injuries--soreness, strains and sprains-are the most common.

Exercise for cancer patients may carry a slightly higher risk for heart problems. It is always a good idea to have a complete physical exam and get approval from your oncologists before starting a moderate-to-vigorous exercise program, Courneya adds.

You didn't make it through chemo just to end up on the couch. Get together with your doctor, get an exercise program, and get moving!

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Reviewed on February 01, 2007

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