11 Reasons Why You Should Exercise During Chemo

As part of leading a happier, healthier life, doctors recommend exercising on a regular basis. However, receiving a cancer diagnosis takes a huge toll on your physical and mental state, sometimes leaving you without the drive to exercise (or do much of anything for that matter). But what if we told you exercise during chemo can actually help boost your mood and help stave off potential side effects? Sounds too good to be true, right? We’ve done our homework and have found the evidence behind this claim looks just about spot on!



Why Exercise During Chemo is Beneficial

Why Exercise During Chemo is Beneficial - Woman's Tennis Shoes walking on treadmill

While doctors previously recommended rest and reduced physical activity while undergoing treatment for cancer, recent studies have shown keeping an exercise regimen is actually fantastic while undergoing radiation or chemotherapy. Not only does exercise improve your overall physical health; it also greatly improves your emotional state as well. Still not sold?

Here’s a list of ways exercising on a regular basis during chemo can affect your overall physical and mental health:

  1. Exercise reduces anxiety and depression.
  2. Improves energy and reduces feelings of fatigue.
  3. Can help with chemo brain.
  4. Increases strength and keeps muscles from weakening.
  5. Releases endorphins to improve both your psychological outlook and quality of life.
  6. Helps reduce the effects of treatment side effects, such as nausea, pain, or weight gain.
  7. Better quality of sleep.
  8. Reduces stiffness.
  9. Boosts your immune system.
  10. Lowers the risk of heart disease.
  11. Improves balance.

As you can see, the effects of exercising during chemo are seriously next level amazing. Here’s another reason for you: while still in the works, one study has shown positive results when exercise habits are formed during and following cancer treatment. Outcomes are suggesting a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival compared to those who are inactive. 



Time to Get Moving: 8 Ways to Exercise During Chemo

Ways to exercise during chemo - Woman in white tank top with dark brown ponytail doing yoga in studio.

So we know how beneficial exercise during chemo can be. However, even the most athletically inclined folks may be unsure how to proceed with exercising after a cancer diagnosis. Can you continue with your usual regimen or tone it down? What about those who do not exercise? Where should you begin? Well, we just so happen to have the deets on both scenarios to get your rolling!

Below are some treatment-friendly exercises perfectly suited for both the newcomer and aficionado:

  • Take a walk around the neighborhood.
  • Do some yoga or stretching via YouTube videos or a class.
  • Lift light weights.
  • Ride a stationary bike.
  • Work in your garden (make sure to wear sun screen and a sun hat).
  • Take a dance class or just dance at home to your favorite music.
  • Try out a water aerobics class (pssst... make sure to go in one of these super cute swim caps!).
  • Get up and move around (walking, dancing⁠—whatever you like) at least 5 minutes every hour.

And these are just to name a few!  Start with a warm-up, such as shoulder shrugs, knee lifts, and toe touches. After your work-out is complete, cool down by stretching. Try holding each stretch for 15-30 seconds and take deep, rhythmic breaths.



More Tips: 

More Chemo Exercise Tips - Bald woman in purple tank top with a towel and water bottle sitting on yoga mat.

  • Before you lace up your running shoes, we highly recommend broaching the subject of exercise with your doctor. Depending on the form of cancer and type of treatment you are undergoing, your doctor may caution you to avoid certain activities or even work with you to determine training schedule. 
  • Setting goals (both long- and short-term) is an A+ method for keeping you on track. Begin by setting a goal to exercise 3 days a week for a month, then increase or modify your goals from there. Maybe walk a little further next time or increase your speed. To keep you on track, you may consider logging your work-outs on your phone or in a journal. 
  • Remember to always stay hydrated.
  • Mix up your routine with different exercises to keep from getting bored.
  • Try exercising in a cooling bamboo or breathable cotton turban to keep you comfortable.



How Often Should I Exercise During Chemo?

How often to exercise during chemo - elderly woman with short white hair in light blue shirt carrying water bottle and yoga mat through a park.

Several studies suggest cancer patients undergoing chemo should complete 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, such as going on a brisk walk, per week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise, like jogging or cycling, per week. If you’re fairly new to the exercise game, we recommend starting slow as pushing yourself too hard can potentially lead to injury or place further strain on your body.



When to Skip Your Work-Out

When to skip your work our - Elderly African American woman in living room with blue exercise ball, purple yoga mat, pink weights, and water bottle.

You may be on the move now, but life happens and you will most likely need to take a break every now and then. How do you know when your body is ready for some downtime? 

Listening to your body is key in deciding when to take a pass on working out. While several people advise working out the day after treatment can help ease your nausea and fatigue, there may be days where it’s just not going to happen. Don’t feel guilty about missing a work-out. Your body will tell you if it needs time to rest and, as previously stated, trying to push through could result in sustaining an injury.

If you are currently experiencing fever, have low sodium or potassium levels, an infection, anemia, shortness of breath, or feel dizzy and unbalanced, these are signs your body is not on the up-and-up. In these cases, skip the exercises and alert your doctor. Your doctor can better advise what steps to take and when you can resume your exercise regimen.



Ready to grab your water bottle and jet? Marvelous! What exercises do you enjoy? Did you notice a difference in how you felt, especially in regards to treatment side effects? Let us know in the comments below! Happy training!


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