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Exercise Benefits Through Cancer Treatment

Cancer treatment can be one of the most exhausting and trying times in a person's life, emotionally and physically. Most of us have either been through cancer treatment or know someone who has. Typical course of treatment includes surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. All of these treatments can produce life-altering side effects. The most common form of cancer treatment we hear about is chemotherapy, and we all know it's not as glamorous as in the movies. In fact, it may be the hardest course of events a person has to go through. This treatment is meant to save lives, but it can also wreak havoc on someone's body: from hair loss, to immune system suppression, muscle weakness, neuropathies and fatigue, just to name a few.

During a treatment as debilitating as chemotherapy, exercise is sometimes the last thing on someone's mind. It seems counter-intuitive to think that adding any type of physical activity could actually make someone going through cancer treatment feel less fatigued and lessen the side effects treatment. But it can…

How Can Exercise Help Me Get Through My Treatment?

We all know that exercise is beneficial for our bodies. For the cancer population, specifically, exercise can help combat some of those nasty side effects produced by the life-saving medical treatments. According to the American Cancer Society, benefits of exercise during cancer treatment include:

  • Keep or improve your physical abilities (how well you can use your body to do things)

  • Improve balance, lower risk of falls and broken bones

  • Keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity

  • Lower the risk of heart disease

  • Lessen the risk of osteoporosis (weak bones that are more likely to break)

  • Improve blood flow to your legs and lower the risk of blood clots

  • Make you less dependent on others for help with normal activities of daily living

  • Improve your self-esteem

  • Lower the risk of being anxious and depressed

  • Lessen nausea

  • Improve your ability to keep social contacts

  • Lessen symptoms of tiredness (fatigue)

  • Help you control your weight

  • Improve your quality of life

Researchers are also looking into the idea that moderate level exercise can actually IMPROVE the delivery of chemotherapy by improving function of the blood vessels in and around tumors. Exercise helps to improve blood flow, thereby increasing the delivery of the drug to where it needs to go; the tumor.

How Can I Exercise Safely During My Cancer Treatment?

To many cancer patients, the thought of exercising during treatment can be overwhelming. Adding one more thing to an already busy schedule during cancer treatment can be daunting, but the benefits of cardiovascular and strength training exercise during cancer treatment are definitely worth investing time and effort in. In fact, they can be life-changing during treatment.

Many cancer patients worry if exercise is safe and don't quite know what types of exercises to do. It is important to find a healthcare professional that specializes specifically in cancer rehabilitation. Physical and occupational therapists that specialize in oncology (cancer) rehab are an important part of the cancer treatment team. These healthcare professionals are trained to design exercise programs specific for each patient, taking into account the type of cancer the patient has, the type of treatment prescribed by your physician, and any functional impairments caused by cancer treatment and to help a person remain strong and independent during cancer treatment.

At Be Strong Therapy, we have specialized Physical and Occupational Therapists that help to design client-specific exercise programs throughout the cancer continuum.

Exercise Tip:

The American Cancer Society Recommends adults with cancer to get at LEAST 150 minutes of MODERATE INTENSITY or 75 minutes of VIGOROUS INTENSITY activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week. Just to give you a reference point, that's 2.5 hours of exercise per WEEK. There are 168 hours in a week. That 2.5 hours a week is very manageable for most people!

What Does Moderate Intensity Mean?

The Mayo Clinic defines moderate intensity exercise as activity that feels somewhat hard.

Here are clues that your exercise intensity is at a moderate level:

  • Your breathing quickens, bur you're not out of breath.

  • You develop a light sweat after about 10 minutes of activity.

  • You can carry on a conversation, but you can't sing.

What Does Vigorous Intensity Mean?

The Mayo clinic defines vigorous activity as activity that feels challenging.

Here are clues that your exercise intensity is at a vigorous level:

  • Your breathing is deep and rapid.

  • You develop a sweat after only a few minutes of activity.

  • You can't say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

It is important to have accountability with your exercise program. Creating and maintaining an exercise log is a great way to ensure you are following your plan! Here is an activity log you can use to make sure you are consistent with your program:

If you or someone you know has cancer, it is time to invest in health and wellness through exercise. Please contact us at if you would like to set up an appointment with one of our highly specialized therapists or for general inquiries.



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