Chemotherapy can be notoriously difficult, not only emotionally but mentally and physically as well. Being diagnosed with cancer can come as a real blow to patients and their families. However, while rest and recuperation is needed, don’t feel that you need to give up your former active lifestyle. Engaging in regular exercise can improve your strength and help your body build up its defences against further infection.
People with certain types of cancer or having particular treatments may need to avoid some types of exercise and there are some situations where you need to take extra care. For example, people with stomach or other digestive system cancers or cancer that has spread to the bone should not do heavy weight training.
If movement causes pain, rapid heart rate, and an increased shortness of breath avoiding or reducing physical activity is advised. However, exercise is not only safe and possible during cancer treatment, but it can improve how well you function physically and your quality of life, with some studies showing that it can help speed up recovery after treatment.
Mr Jonathan Krell, consultant oncologist at Leaders in Oncology Care and one of London Medical Concierge’s network of doctors gives advice on how best to stay active when going through chemotherapy.
“Partaking in regular exercise increases muscle strength, joint flexibility, and general conditioning, all of which may be impaired by surgery and some therapies. Exercise is known to improve cardiovascular function and elevates your mood, offering a drug-free relief for feelings of depression when going through chemotherapy. Exercise also helps to control weight, and gaining weight during and after treatment can increase the risk of the cancer reoccurring.
“Too much exercise can make you tired but so can too little. Therefore, finding your own level is important but you shouldn’t push too hard. Research shows that exercise can help with the side effects of cancer treatment such as pain, tiredness and sickness and can also improve your mood, reduce anxiety and improve quality of life. More importantly, research into some cancers such as breast cancer shows that exercise and a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of a person’s cancer coming back after potentially curative treatment.
“If you are having treatment or have recently finished, it is fine to start exercising if you feel like it. How much you do really depends on how fit you are generally. If you’ve never done much exercise, you’ll have to build up your level gradually. If you do too much one day, you may feel very tired and sore the next day. Something important to remember is that you don’t need to feel that you always have to do more exercise than yesterday; little and often is more effective than lengthy workouts every day and some days you will have more energy than others.
“Each patient’s exercise programme should be based on what is safe, effective and enjoyable. You should take into account the type of cancer you have, your cancer treatment, your stamina, strength and fitness level. What may seem like a small amount of exercise for a healthy person may be a lot for someone going through cancer.
“Try to do about 30 minutes of physical activity throughout the day, this can include walking, gardening and other general household chores, such as vacuuming, do these regular activities at a higher level of intensity in order for your fitness level to improve.
“As your fitness improves you’ll be able to up the level of exercise and activities you do. You could try long walks, cycling, yoga or light gym work. Listen to your body and work at your own pace, and if you experience sickness, dizziness or pain stop exercising immediately. If your treatment is making you feel especially tired, try exercising for a shorter amount of time and at a lower intensity, or leave exercising until the following day instead.
“Your fitness and energy levels will fluctuate throughout the different stages of your treatment cycle. For example, immediately after treatment you are likely to feel tired and unwell and it’s advisable to stick to light exercising or leaving it until the next day. Studies have shown that exercising can improve your energy levels and help you feel less tired, but listen to your body, don’t put pressure on yourself to exercise and do what you feel comfortable with.”