We’ve covered the benefits of exercise many times- lowers your side effects during treatments, reduces risk of depression and anxiety, improves balance and mobility, improves sleep, and overall improves your quality of life. Now let’s move into what your exercise routine should look like or modalities it should have.
First, remember to always consult with your doctor before starting new exercises and programs, even if you were physically active before treatment coming back into it won’t be the same.
Breathing exercises: Some may experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing which can halt your progress in getting exercise in. By practicing breathing exercises- better moving air through your lungs can alone work to exercise your lungs and start to improve your stamina. Practicing breathing exercises can also help when dealing with anxiety and stress. Yoga, Qigong, and tai chi are great for practicing breathing, as well as working on stretching, strengthening, and balance.
Stretching: Regular stretching can help improve mobility, posture and increase flexibility. When in treatments, if you are more sedentary your muscles can start to stiffen up and be difficult to get moving again, by adding regular stretching can work to increase blood flow through your muscles and then help you get moving again. Stretch can be done while also practicing your breathing.
Balance: As we age balance gets harder to maintain, then add treatments on top of that, and out goes our ability to maintain balance. The simple exercise of holding onto a chair or counter while trying to balance on one foot, slowly increasing the time you practice each day/time, can help reduce your risk of falls.
Aerobic exercise: Aerobic also more commonly known as cardio, works to increase heart rate, strengthening heart and lungs, and can help you feel less tired. Walking is a very easy and safe way to exercise, as well as recumbent bikes, and swimming.
Strength training: Muscle loss is often accompanied by age as well as cancer treatments, the good old adage of “if you don’t use it you’ll lose it”. Adding some resistance training- weights, resistance bands, bodyweight training, can help reduce the amount of weakness and muscle loss to occur. Working to maintain or increase strength can help reduce loss of balance and reduce fatigue and help you better be able to do daily activities.
When adding new training into your weekly/monthly training, as stated above be sure to connect with your doctor to be approved for new training. It’s important to take precautions while exercising. You will learn to listen to your body. Slow down when you feel the need to slow and stop when you need to stop. Sometimes we want to “push through” but you need to learn when it’s good to push a little and when to stop.
Start and progress slowly: Be patient with this process, it vital to start slowly and light, it will help you to avoid injury and keep you on the path to activity.
Exercise safe: Be mindful of your immune system, weather conditions, fall risk, etc. If you feel your immune system is especially weak don’t go to a big gym exposing yourself to the risk of sickness, go outside for a walk, do strength from home. If it’s snowing, icy, raining or extra cold- stay inside and hit the treadmill or walk your stairs. It’s ok to get creative.
Listen to your body: When you need a rest day take it. Adjust your effort levels based on how you feel. Some days it’ll be a huge win to get out and walk your backyard and feel some sunshine, don’t get discouraged on days your energy isn’t all the way there.
Stay hydrated: As we head into warmer days be sure to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Low or nonsugar electrolyte drinks are also great to help stay hydrated.
Eat a balanced diet: Fuel your body. Food is essential for activity, growth, and health- treat your body well by fueling well.
See your doctor regularly: Your health and body can change as you take maintenance drugs or during treatment, keeping a line of communication open with a healthcare professional can help in your overall experience as a warrior.
Treat your body well and you’ll fight harder through it all.
about the author
Linnley joined the HealthTree Foundation in January 2020 as the Fitness Events Manager. Her husband is a childhood cancer survivor as well as a cancer biologist. Finding a cure, better treatments, and balance through treatments is what drives their family. Linnley is an Advanced Cancer Exercise Specialist and focuses on finding what you can do rather than can't.