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Exercising Before a Chemo Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 29, 2021

If you've recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may be wondering if it's safe to continue or begin an exercise program. Your loved ones may be urging you to take it easy and rest, but regular exercise benefits people with cancer in many different ways. The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) has issued guidelines that exercise should be considered part of your cancer treatment.

There are hundreds of studies that show exercise benefits people with cancer at every stage. A review of 61 studies of women with stage 2 breast cancer showed that a combination of aerobic and resistance exercises was not only safe, it improved outcomes. However, before you begin an exercise program, talk to your doctor, who can help you create an exercise plan tailored to your specific circumstances.

Benefits of Exercising Before and During Chemotherapy

If you start exercising before you start your chemotherapy you may be able to handle the treatment better and recover from it more quickly. Being as active as possible may reduce complications from surgery. Regular exercise can also help you deal with the anxiety and distress of your cancer diagnosis, obtain more energy, and sleep better at night.  

As you progress with chemotherapy, you may find it harder to be active. If chemotherapy leaves you drained, you may find it easier to exercise before your chemo treatments. 

Some more benefits of exercising during cancer treatments are: 

  • Decrease in muscle weakness related to cancer treatments
  • Reduced pain
  • Weight management
  • Stronger anti-tumor activity in your immune system
  • Increased stamina
  • Empowerment to be active in your treatment plan

Exercise Guideline During Cancer Treatment

You may be surprised to learn that the COSA guidelines for exercising during cancer treatment are the same as the guidelines for people without cancer. You should try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise every week. Additionally, you should try to do resistance exercises targeting all the major muscle groups two to three times weekly.

Of course, you may not be able to exercise as much as you did before chemo, so keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Don't exercise if you're experiencing extreme fatigue, low red blood cell count, or a lack of muscle coordination
  • Avoid exercising in public places such as gyms if your white blood cell count is low
  • If your breast cancer has spread to your bones, use extra caution since you're at higher risk of breaking a bone
  • If you're having pain or numbness in your hands or feet your risk of falling is higher so you may want to bring a partner with you

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "Physical Activity and the Person with Cancer."

Breastcancer.org: "Exercise During and After Chemotherapy or Targeted Therapies."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Exercise as part of cancer treatment."

Mayo Clinic: "Your secret weapon during cancer treatment? Exercise!"

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