Exercise and chemotherapy: Is it possible?

Physical activity during chemotherapy can be beneficial.

“You have cancer!” is one of the most frightening sentences you could hear. There are many emotions associated with the word cancer, and then add the word “chemotherapy” as treatment. A rush of emotions are experienced by many; it’s a feeling of losing control and losing the life you were used to living. Your thoughts and daily actions change from living carefree to now being under “chemo control.” What can you do to combat this feeling of losing control over your life? Exercise!

Should individuals continue exercising or begin an exercise program during chemotherapy treatment? Is exercise beneficial with all the chemicals that will be pumped through the bodies system?

According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and Michigan State University Extension, the benefits of moderate exercise during chemotherapy treatment are:

  • Reduces fatigue (a common complaint of chemotherapy).
  • Increases muscle strength, joint flexibility and overall conditioning.
  • Improves cardiovascular function and protects bones.
  • Elevates mood—a drug free way to decrease depression that is typically associated with a cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy treatment.

Exercise gives you important benefits during chemotherapy, but remember to proceed with caution.

The American Cancer Society recommends, if possible, cancer patients and survivors:

  • Avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible following a cancer diagnosis.
  • Do 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week. These minutes can be done in short bouts instead of longer exercise regimens.
  • Include strength-building exercises at least two days per week. There are many gyms that have specific programs for individuals going through chemotherapy. The Live Strong organization teamed with the American Cancer Society and the YMCA to offer specific programs for individuals going through or completed treatment to increase strength and fitness.

The idea is to keep moving forward during this difficult time, keeping your body strong, and even if you need to stop and take a breath during your exercise routine, don’t give up. Consulting with your physician before starting an exercise routine is important for addressing concerns and your personal health history. If you are prone to infections it may be a good idea to find exercise routines that could be completed at home instead of a gym.

There is something freeing about moving your body forward when a cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy can make you feel boxed in. Always remember, a body in motion stays in motion.

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