How to Exercise Safely During Cancer Recovery

Woman being examined by doctor

One of the most common questions cancer patients ask is when the right time to get back to exercising is. According to many oncologists, you can get back to exercising as soon as you feel better. The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that working out can help lower the side effects of cancer treatment such as weakness, depression, reduced range of motion, fatigue, lymphedema, and neuropathy. Additionally, many studies, such as a study published in the 2016 May issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, have confirmed that working out can decrease the risk of developing 13 kinds of cancer. However, prior to adding working out to your recovery program, make sure to follow these rules for a safe recovery:

Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Professional Help

Generally speaking, your workout plan should include breathing exercises, stretching, strength training, and aerobic exercises. If you don’t know where to start, consult your oncologist for recommendations, or find a physical therapist with experience on working with cancer patients to create an exercise routine that fits your specific needs.

Discuss the Side Effects of Cancer Treatment with Your Doctor

Having this information will help you create an exercise regimen that fits your exact needs. For instance, some of your medications might make your muscles or joints extra sore, while others might increase your risk of dehydration or impact your balance. If you had cancer surgery, check with your doctor which lymph nodes and muscles were affected so that your physical therapist will know which exercises to avoid.

Set Realistic Goals

While you may not be ready to join camps for cancer patients yet, having specific, attainable short- and long-term exercise goals will help you stay on track. For example, you might want to work on increasing your mobility at first and then increasing muscle mass later on. No matter your goals, remember to adjust them based on your physical state, overall health, family life, and work.

Be Consistent but Flexible

Always listen to what your body is telling you. Although consistency is definitely key to achieving your exercise goals, you should be flexible enough when the time comes that you have to modify your plan to suit your current emotional and physical side effects. You can add more activities or increase your intensity as you begin to feel better.

Use Your Energy Levels as Guide

Your fatigue and pain levels could change from hour to hour and day to day, so you should monitor your energy levels to determine the best time of day to work out. For instance, work out in the afternoon if you find that your energy levels are at a high during that time.

Visit Your Doctor Regularly

Patient talking to doctor

Because your overall health is constantly changing, it’s vital that your doctor keeps track of your fatigue levels, nausea, joint and muscle pain, as well as blood count. You might experience lingering health issues that a lymphedema or physical therapist has to assess.

It is also vital to keep in mind that you should never compare your progress with those who haven’t undergone cancer treatment. Just focus on your exercise goals, stay safe, and get lots of rest.