Health

Ask an Expert, “Should I exercise during my cancer treatment?”

When you stand in front of one cancer diagnosis Changing your treatment plan can feel like your world has been turned upside down as regular routines take a backseat to doctor appointments and side effects.

But experts agree that it’s important to stick with self-care — and that includes making time for it physical activity.

Nichole Andrews, a registered dietitian and cancer nutritionist who works with patients and survivors in Kennewick, Washington, is a big advocate of exercising as much as possible during treatment.

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“Cancer may be challenging for the body, but exercise strengthens the spirit and empowers people to take an active part in their own recovery and look forward to a brighter future,” she told Fox News Digital.

“Exercise during cancer treatment offers a variety of significant benefits that include physical, emotional and psychological aspects,” she added.

strength of the cancer patient

According to experts, strength training or resistance training is important to prevent muscle wasting, which often occurs when a person becomes less active during cancer treatment and recovery. (iStock)

Andrews shared some key benefits.

Improved sleep

Regular physical activity may help regulate sleep patterns, relieve insomnia, and promote restful sleep, Andrews said.

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“This improved quality of sleep can contribute to better overall health and energy to participate in and recover from any treatment cycle or modality, leading to better treatment outcomes,” she told Fox News Digital.

Increased quality of life

Participating in exercise routines can improve mood, increase energy levels and instill a sense of accomplishment — which in turn leads to an improved quality of life and a more positive outlook on the cancer journey, the expert said.

“Exercise programs tailored to an individual’s needs can help maintain their mobility and independence, and allow them to continue with their daily activities and routines,” she added.

Reduced risk of future illness

Consistent exercise is associated with a lower risk of developing other types of cancer and provides additional protection beyond the current diagnosis, Andrews said.

woman running

Consistent exercise is associated with a lower risk of developing other types of cancer and provides additional protection beyond the current diagnosis, Andrews said. (iStock)

“Physical activity can also reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases heart disease and diabetes, which can be exacerbated during cancer treatment,” she added.

Prevention of muscle wasting

Exercise prevents muscle wasting and can help build strength, Andrews said.

“This is especially important because cancer treatments like chemotherapy can sometimes cause muscle wasting,” she noted.

Improved balance

“Balance exercises are important to prevent falls, especially for older people undergoing cancer treatment,” Andrews said.

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“These exercises can minimize the risk of injuries and fractures.”

Reduced risk of depression and anxiety

Physical activity releases endorphins, which act as natural mood enhancers.

“Regular exercise can also relieve symptoms depression and anxiety often associated with cancer and its treatment.”

Prevention of weight gain and obesity

“Exercise is a key part of prevention weight gain and obesityboth of which are linked to an increased risk of cancer and can also complicate cancer treatment,” the doctor said.

Improved treatment effectiveness

“Exercise can increase the effectiveness of cancer treatments, making them more efficient at fighting and destroying tumor cells,” Andrews said.

Ask Expert Cancer Exercise

Nichole Andrews (left), a registered dietitian and cancer nutritionist who works with cancer patients and survivors in Kennewick, Washington, is a strong advocate of exercising as much as possible during treatment. (Nichole Andrews/iStock)

Regular physical activity can also contribute to faster recovery and reduce the length of hospital stay, she added, and help patients return to their normal lives more quickly.

“Regular exercise can also reduce the incidence and severity of physical side effects associated with cancer treatment, including fatigue, neuropathy, lymphedema, osteoporosis and nausea,” Andrews said.

Improved survival rates

“For certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer and colorectal cancer, studies have shown that regular exercise can improve survival and potentially increase life expectancy,” the doctor said.

types of exercises

Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is any type of exercise that increases heart rate.

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“It strengthens the body’s heart and lungs and can help you feel less tired during and after treatment,” Andrews said.

“Walking is an easy, low-impact way to get aerobic exercise that increases circulation and provides a natural boost of energy,” she said. “For example, your healthcare team might suggest walking 40 to 50 minutes at a moderate pace three to four times a week.”

Nicholas Andrews

“Cancer may be challenging for the body, but exercise strengthens the spirit and empowers people to take an active part in their own recovery and look forward to a brighter future,” Andrews told Fox News Digital. (Nichole Andrews)

Gentle stretches and yoga poses also help improve flexibility and reduce muscle tension while also leaving you feeling more relaxed and energized, Andrews noted.

Strength training, or resistance training, is important to prevent muscle wasting, which often occurs when a person becomes less active during cancer treatment and recovery.

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“Strength training helps you maintain and build muscle mass, which can help improve your balance, reduce fatigue and make it easier to carry out everyday activities,” Andrews said.

“It may also help fight osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones that some cancer treatments can cause.”

Light resistance band exercises can help maintain muscle strength and increase energy, she said.

Patient talks to doctor

Before starting an exercise program, the patient should share the plans with the oncology team in case the doctors have further recommendations. (iStock)

“These exercises can be performed seated or standing and are adjustable to your fitness level.”

Andrews also suggests doing deep breathing exercises to increase oxygen levels, alertness, and mental focus.

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If you have access to a pool, swimming can be excellent, low-impact exercise, Andrews noted.

“The buoyancy of the water reduces stress on your joints while allowing for a full-body workout,” she said.

Tips for maintaining security

According to Andrews, if you’re experiencing side effects from cancer or its treatment, prioritizing safety when it comes to physical activity. This may mean changing your exercise schedule as needed.

“Your well-being comes first and tailoring your exercise schedule to your individual circumstances is a responsible approach.”

If you’re just beginning exercise after diagnosis, Andrews says a gradual progression is best.

“Even if you were physically active before cancer treatment, start your exercise program gradually,” she advised. “Slowly increasing your activity level can prevent injury and help you stay motivated.”

cancer patient

Regular physical activity can also help speed recovery and shorten the length of hospital stay, allowing patients to return to their normal lives more quickly, Andrews said. (iStock)

Choosing a safe environment is also important, she said.

“If your immune system has been weakened by treatment, avoid crowded gyms where germs can easily spread,” Andrews said.

“Consider exercising at home or outdoors, especially in favorable weather conditions.”

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It is always important to listen to your body and pay attention to the signals.

“If your energy is low, adjust the duration and intensity of your exercise until you feel better,” advises Andrews.

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Before starting any exercise program, she said to share with you oncology team if the doctors have further recommendations.

Andrews added, “Your wellbeing is paramount and tailoring your exercise schedule to your individual circumstances is a responsible approach.”

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