Exercising during treatment

The old advice to “just get plenty of rest” during cancer treatment has been updated. Today, research suggests that exercise, when carefully monitored, is safe and a powerful tool to improve the health and quality of life of cancer patients. It's important to speak to an exercise specialist or a member of your health care team who can help adapt exercise programs to be appropriate for your needs.

Avoid inactivity

The latest guideline from the American College of Sports Medicine is that cancer survivors avoid inactivity, even if you are undergoing treatment. The guidelines point out that if individuals cannot meet these guidelines, they "should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow."

If and when you are able, you should aim to get the same amount of exercise the government recommends for the average person: 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise along with muscle training and flexibility exercises.

Especially if you were not exercising regularly before your diagnosis, take it slowly and carefully now. Build up your level of activity in a step-by-step manner and keep your oncologist and other health providers informed. The level of supervision needed for individuals undergoing treatment to exercise safely varies and clinicians will need to adapt exercise programs to the individual survivor.

Of course, how much activity you’re able to do during treatment depends on many factors related to your specific diagnosis, treatment, age and fitness level. Ask your health care team for guidance.

Benefits of being active

Research is ongoing as to how much of a role physical activity plays in reducing recurrence and lengthening life. Among cancer patients, research suggests that moderate, supervised physical activity
may increase...

  • Quality of life
  • Muscle mass
  • Muscle strength and power
  • Aerobic fitness
  • How far you can walk
  • Immune system capacity
  • Ability to do daily activities
  • Flexibility

And may decrease...

  • Nausea
  • Body fat
  • Fatigue
  • Heart rate
  • Length of hospitalization
  • Symptoms/side effects
  • Resting blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Anxiety