Keep Moving for Cancer Health
The new year often brings aspirations for a healthier, stronger you. A cancer diagnosis should not stand in the way of these goals! Adding some exercise or other physical activities is a great and simple start towards a healthier you. Even those who were not active before their cancer diagnosis can benefit from the improved physical and mental health that comes from exercise.
Before You Start
Those diagnosed with any condition, including cancer, should always consult a physician before starting any new exercises, diets, or other activities. Even if you were extremely physically active before treatment, some side effects and other concerns may determine what is safe for you. While it has been proven that it is safe to exercise with certain types of cancer treatments, your ability to and the types of exercise to try depend on lots of different factors, including:
- The type of cancer you’ve been diagnosed with
- The treatments you are undergoing
- Your personal level of fitness
- Other health concerns
The side effects that you may be experiencing will determine the exercise plan that is right for you, so make sure to check with your doctor!
It is always important to take precautions to exercise safely, especially when diagnosed with cancer. These are just a few ways to make sure you are safely getting the most from your exercises.
A Safe Place
A lot of us believe that we need access to a large gym to be able to exercise, but you can exercise anywhere! In fact, it is often better for those undergoing certain cancer treatments, which can weaken the immune system, to stay away from public gyms. Germs tend to be everywhere in large gyms and spread easily for those with healthy immune systems, so those with weakened immune systems are better off to find ways to exercise at home.
Water! Water! More Water!
Water is what keeps the body functioning for everyone! Dehydration is very common in those going through cancer treatments. During cancer treatments, water is also important because it helps to regulate your temperature, not to mention flushing toxins and other waste from your body. While exercising, your body uses more water, so make sure to keep a water bottle handy and drink up!
Listen to Your Body!
Believe it or not, your body will tell you what it needs. When your energy levels are low, don’t push yourself too hard. Adjust your exercise length and how difficult the exercises are to better accommodate you until you feel better! Listen to your body! It’s only trying to help!
Take Your Time
There is no need to rush in your physical fitness journey. Even if you were physically active and strong before you began treatment, it can take time to build back up to that activity level. Taking it slow and not forcing your body into difficult exercises will help you prevent injury and also keep you on the right track. If a 30 minute workout seems out of reach, break it down into smaller 10 minute sessions. Don’t get discouraged at your pace! Everyone is different!
Do you have someone you enjoy spending time with? Ask them to be your exercise buddy! Not only is it safer to exercise with someone else, it is also motivating. Together, you can support one another and insure someone is nearby, just in case anything goes wrong. Everything is better with a friend!
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is essential for a healthy body. After exercise, your body needs food that is high in protein to help recover. Talk to your doctor about what foods you should be eating, or ask them about talking to an oncology dietitian, who can help you find the nutrition plan that is just right for your recovery and treatments.
Talk to Your Doctor!
Jeez, another reminder about my doctor. Don’t I talk to them enough? While this may seem repetitive, talking to your doctor and keeping them informed is essential for anyone diagnosed with cancer. Throughout treatment, your health can change and it is important to keep your doctor in the loop with any activities you may be trying. Many health indicators, such as your blood count, will help your doctor determine if and how it is safe to exercise.
Types of Exercise
Using a variety of different exercises is the key to not only be successful, but to choose a safe exercise program. A complete program should involve all of the topics listed below but, keep in mind, you may be limited by certain health restrictions. No need to worry though! Every little activity helps and something is better than nothing.
Many of those diagnosed with cancer suffer from shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Since most types of physical activities result in a little heavy breathing, this can prevent them from exercising. Breathing exercises work by improving the way you draw in and release a breath. They can also help with stress and anxiety. The best part about breathing exercises? They can be done anywhere and don’t take much time out of your day!
Try this simple breathing exercise to begin.
Equal Breathing, otherwise known as sama vritti, is a breathing exercise that focuses on keeping your inhales and exhales the same length. This can be done in a seated position, so whether you do this at work, lounging on the couch, or during yoga, this breathing exercise is easy to fit into your daily schedule.
- Choose a comfortable position.
- Breath through your nose.
- During each inhale and exhale, count to make sure they are the same amount of time.
- Counts between 3 and five are typically a good place to start, but you can adjust to where you feel comfortable. Not too easy, not too hard.
- You can also add a small pause between each inhale and exhale as you get comfortable.
- Continue practicing your breathing for at least 5 minutes.
It is important to find balance in all areas of your life, especially the balance found in your feet! Those diagnosed with cancer are often effected by a loss of balance. Being unsteady on your feet can lead to falls and broken bones, so it is important to work on these problems. Balance exercises help you regain the function and mobility needed for everyday activities. Along with keeping you on your feet, they also strengthen your body and increase coordination. There are many balance exercises, so it should be easy to find one to suit your needs.
Try this simple balance exercise to begin!
Rock the Boat is a great balancing exercise to help keep you active, improve coordination, and prevent falls! Best of all, you can do this exercise anywhere you can stand up. If you are unsteady on your feet, use a chair or ask a friend to help you balance.
- Stand with your feet hip width apart, keeping your weight on both feet firmly.
- Move your weight on to your left foot and lift your right foot.
- Only lift your leg as far as you feel comfortable, no need for any acrobatics!
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds.
- Slowly lower your right foot back to the floor, shifting your weight to both feet evenly.
- Repeat using your left foot.
- Do this for each side 5 to 10 times.
Cancer and its treatments can often make the body feel stiff and limit your range of motion. Stretching is a great way to improve your flexibility and can even help your body repair itself! It helps to increase the blood and oxygen flow throughout your body and help to calm you down. Stretching after surgery can also help to break down scar tissue!
Try these simple stretches to begin!
Lower Back Stretch is a great stretch for your—lower back—duh. Best of all, this is a stretch that is meant to be sitting, which is a great option if you are unsteady on your feet. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a good back stretch?
- Get into a seated position, keeping your feet flat on the floor and knees bent and apart.
- Curling your torso forward towards the ground, hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Remember to breathe normally!
- Slowly return to an upright position, giving yourself a moment of rest before repeating the stretch.
Pectoral and Biceps Stretch is a great stretch, allowing you to stretch two muscle groups at once! This stretch is best done standing, but the use of a chair can add some balancing help if needed.
- Standing near a wall or pole and raise the arm closest to the wall or pole so that the arm is parallel to the floor.
- Hold the wall or pole with your hand.
- Without moving your feet, turn your body away from the arm touching the wall or pole.
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds before repeating the stretch for the other arm.
Strength Training Exercises
When someone who is undergoing cancer treatment is less active, muscle loss is a common side effect. Many cancer treatments also cause muscle weakness. Strength training, also known as resistance training, works by helping to maintain and build stronger muscles. Strength training also helps to improve your balance and reduce fatigue, making daily activities easier. Strength training doesn’t have to involve access to a gym with exercise machines. Hand weights, resistance bands, and even your own body weight are more than enough to get in a great workout.
Try this simple strength training exercise to begin
Lunges are an exercise that the majority of us are familiar with. Lunges help to strengthen most of the lower half of your body, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus. Plus, this exercise can be done next to a wall or chair to help with balance.
- Start standing with a sturdy object next to you for stability.
- Lift one leg and bring it forward a stride length in front of you.
- Your knee should bend at a 90⁰ angle, allowing your other leg to trail behind you to bend.
- Keep your torso straight and don’t let your knee move further than your toes on your front foot.
- Hold this position for a moment before returning to a standing position.
- Repeat exercise using the opposite leg. Alternate between legs, completing 10 repetitions for each side.
Sometimes referred to as cardio, aerobic exercises are a type of exercise that raises your heart rate. Not only do these exercises increase your endurance, aerobic exercises strengthen your heart and lungs. Feeling a little less tired during and after treatments seems like an excellent pay off for just a little exercise!
Walking is one of the easiest ways to get some aerobic exercise. Doctors recommend that everyone gets 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. While that seems like an intimidating amount, when you break it down, it is very manageable! Simply take a walk after dinner for 30 minutes and you’ve already done more than your recommended daily amount! Plus, taking a walk is a great way to aid in digestion!
If you are unsteady on your feet, swimming or water aerobics are other great options!
Exercise can seem like a daunting task for anyone, but it doesn’t have to be! Even those undergoing cancer treatments can get in some physical activities with ease. By breaking it down, talking to your doctor, and doing a few simple exercises a day, everyone can take a step towards starting this year stronger and healthier.
Written by D. Maves