To Exercise or Not to Exercise – That’s the Question

Exercising during chemotherapy not only feels different – it is different. Your body is working very hard to process your chemo and also to give you the energy and vitality you’re used to. As I remember from my chemo days, there were some days I didn’t want to even move from my bed and others when I did. What I learned is that it’s ok to give yourself permission not to exercise like you did in the past. Fighting a tough battle like cancer takes a lot of physical and mental energy. Treating exercise as part of your recovery plan is an excellent way to incorporate daily activity into your life in a way that you feel good about. Exercise improves feelings of well being – something you often lose during treatment. One way to get started is to work at a pace that represents where you are today – not where you were before you got sick! For example, a 5 – 10 minute walk around the hospital unit three or four times a day will help you feel better physically and emotionally. It will also help to maintain some of your fitness level and muscle mass, which are both important. Exercising during treatment is not about competitions or body image – it’s about feeling good about yourself both in body and mind.

Take it Slowly

I remember clearly the bone and muscle ache during my cancer treatments. Often a gentle 10 minute walk was the most I was able to embrace while on others days – when the pain was less – I would walk a little further. All in all, the walks helped me to feel as normal and productive as possible given my circumstances. The feeling of moving about helped me to feel alive and positive about my situation. Remember to be gentle with your expectations of yourself during your treatment time. Don’t strive to maintain the level of physical activity you had prior to your diagnosis. Instead, build a new self-image that fits your needs and take pride in how you are caring for yourself. If you enjoy a specific activity such as swimming or bike riding or resistance training, do as much as you feel up to but…. don’t try for your old level of effort. Take this time to let your body work full time on healing your illness. Give yourself permission to change your exercise pace for a while. When you’re feeling stronger, you can rewrite your exercise program . Include more activities and celebrate that you are able to do just that!

Helpful Tip : stretch gently before and after exercising and make sure your physician knows about your exercise plans.

Look Ahead – Not Back

Remembering all the things you used to be able to do can be discouraging and doesn’t help you move forward. Any amount of exercise will make you feel better and help you get better more quickly. So, set a new course. Be proactive about your physical activity during treatments. You can do it! Helena Boersma, MS, ACSM Exercise Physiologist Breast Cancer Survivor