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Exercise Safety During Cancer Treatment

Learn about exercise safety during cancer treatment in this guide from The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine.

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What you should know

How exercise helps during cancer treatment

  • Improves quality of life
  • Lowers the risk of being anxious or depressed
  • Improves physical function
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves cancer-related fatigue
  • Improves bone health

Types of exercise

  • Aerobic exercise, such a walking or jogging, increases your heart rate.
  • Strength training will help build muscle.
  • Stretching reduces muscle tightness and increases flexibility.

Evidence-based physical activity guidelines

  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three days a week
  • Strength training at least two times a week

What you can do: Exercising safely during your treatment

How to exercise safely during your treatment

  • It is important to speak to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Progress slowly with each exercise. If you wonder whether it is OK to exercise on a given day during your treatment, try exercising for 10 minutes. If you feel worse, stop and try again the next day.
  • Listen to your body. If your fatigue worsens during exercise, take a break or rest.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink at least eight cups of water a day. If you are exercising outside in the heat, drink more water.
  • Exercise in a safe environment. Exercise on a surface with flat ground to reduce the risk of falling.
  • Go on walks throughout the day. If you feel walking for 30 minutes at one time is too much, try to go on a shorter walk at least twice a day for 15 minutes each time, or three times a day for 10 minutes.
  • Exercise is safe for women with or at risk for breast-cancer-related lymphedema.

How hard should I work out?

  • You can use a scale of 0 to 10 to gauge how hard you are working.
  • On a scale of 0 to 10, a rating of zero means you are resting. An intensity rating of 10 means you are working out your body as much as you can.
  • Start with working at a slower intensity of 1 to 3.
  • After you feel you have made progress, work up to an intensity of 4 to 6. This range is considered
    “moderate intensity.” At this level, you should be able to speak in sentences without being completely
    out of breath.
  • If you start to feel the exercise is getting difficult, stop the exercise and decrease the intensity.
  • A rating of 9 or 10 means you cannot catch your breath. This is excessive.

Intensity scale at a glance

  • 10 – Maximal effort – as hard as you have ever worked
  • 9
  • 8 – Very hard
  • 7 – Moderately hard
  • 6
  • 5 – Hard (starting to breathe harder)
  • 4 – Somewhat hard (starting to breathe harder)
  • 3 – Moderate (starting to breathe harder)
  • 2 – Somewhat easy – like walking around your home
  • 1 – Very easy
  • 0 – At rest

Adding physical activity to your daily routine

  • Walk around your house for 10 minutes every day.
  • Clean your house while listening to music – dance while you vacuum.
  • Walk your pet every morning for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Use the stairs instead of an elevator.
  • Take an exercise class with a friend once a week.
  • Ride a bike at low to moderate intensity.
  • Park your car farther away and walk to the building.

Things to consider

  • Before starting any exercise program, consult with your doctor.
  • Exercise at your own pace.
  • Avoid being physically inactive, which will lead ot a decrease in strength and muscle.
  • Increase your intensity depending on if your body can handle it.

What to avoid

  • Physical inactivity, which will lead to a decrease in muscle strength and mass
  • Overworking yourself; be sure to work at an intensity that does not result in worsening your fatigue or other symptoms

Where can I find more information about aerobic and strength-training exercises?

If you are interested in starting aerobic and/or strength-training exercises, The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) provides videos demonstrating proper form for more than 50 exercises.

See the videos here