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Exercise and Fitness Activity for Cancer Patients

Couple running.

October 07, 2019

The 3 types of exercise we encourage patients to do focus on core muscles, strength training and aerobic exercise.

For the greatest benefit, include an activity from each category every day. We offer the following tips to get started.

  • Start small
    Just 1-5 minutes of exercise, several times daily will help you manage your energy level.
  • Keep track
    Take notes to track your progress.
  • Set the mood
    Listen to music while you move.
  • Reward yourself
    When you complete your exercises, do something you enjoy.
  • Avoid inactivity
    Too much physical down time leads to muscle loss, weakness and increased fatigue.

Core exercises for a strong center

Core exercises strengthen the important muscles that make up the center of your body. Core muscles work continuously unless you are at rest. They prevent you from falling over, even in a seated position.

Core muscles are also important to your lungs and breathing. They are involved in every single motion you make, from rolling over in bed to eating a meal to supporting you when walking and exercising.

While sitting up:
Doing these things as often as possible will keep your core muscles strong and make daily tasks easier.

  • The simplest exercise when you don’t feel well is to sit with strong posture in a chair.
  • Lift your chest and pull your should blades back.
  • Take 5 or 6 deep breaths, then inhale for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 5.

While lying down:
This work will help you recover faster and lessen your fatigue.

  • Lift your head and shoulders up off the bed (you can support your neck with your arms) and lift 1 leg at a time up toward the ceiling.
  • Begin with 5 repetitions of each leg and work up.
  • Keep your torso upright and core engaged as you move from one place to another. This may feel strange at first but will help you develop these key muscles.

Strength exercises for muscle maintenance

Strength exercises help you build or retain muscle. Examples include standing up from your chair and using resistance tubes or light weights for upper and lower body muscles while climbing stairs and carrying objects.

Loss of muscle strength during treatment makes you tire easily and may make simple tasks more difficult. Because muscle strength diminishes as you go through therapy, exercise is important. The more you exercise, the better you will feel.

  • From a seated position, slowly stand up using as little support as you feel comfortable with. Stand as tall as possible then slowly lower yourself back to the chair.
  • Holding a 10-ounce soup can in each hand, stretch your arms over your head and reach as high as possible. Extend your arms at your sides then curl them up to your shoulders.
  • Pick up something of moderate weight. Hold it close to your body and take 10-15 steps before setting it down. Tighten your core muscles as you perform this exercise.
  • Stand at the bottom of the stairs. Place 1 leg up. Step up and then step back to starting. Hold on to the railing for balance.

Aerobic exercises to keep you moving

Aerobic exercise includes walking, stationary biking and activities of daily living such as bathing and dressing. We encourage you to walk 4 times per day. This is especially important if you are hospitalized or recovering at home.

  • Walk a route indoors or outdoors at least once per day, resting as needed.
  • Walk on a regular schedule and increase the time and distance as your energy improves.
  • Keep a log of how long and how far you walk. Consider wearing a pedometer to track your steps and activities and include these in your activity log.
  • As you walk, be mindful of your posture and core basics. Slow your walks if necessary to keep your core engaged and posture tall. Walk near a wall if you need assistance with balance.


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