Continue With Exercise During Cancer Treatment

Continue With Exercise During Cancer Treatment

If you or someone you love is dealing with cancer, and currently undergoing cancer treatment, you might think exercise is off the table. You would be wrong. Exercise has a slew of benefits for those undergoing treatment, including reducing fatigue, keeping you social, retaining crucial muscle mass, and maintaining your stamina. So what kinds of exercise work best during cancer treatment?

Think Moderate

It’s important to realize this is the time when consistent but moderate movement is best. Consider lower weight, light cardio like walking, and easy restorative stretching. Our goal is to keep you as strong as possible, while minimizing any drain on you. Ask a certified fitness pro to help you to design a program appropriate to your type of cancer and your fitness level and overall condition.


Whether outdoors during mild days or on a treadmill indoors, walking is a great form of exercise that can get you moving, at your own pace, and in your own time.  Outdoors you might consider going just a block or two, but incorporating that 2-3 times during the day. In the gym, a treadmill program might look something like this:

  • Warm up at 2.5 mph, for 3 minutes
  • Raise to 3.0 mph for 5 minutes
  • Cool down at 2.5 mph for 3 minutes

Staying Social

During treatment, you might be tempted to drop out of everyday activities. Treatment sometimes comes with unpleasant (OK, ridiculously horrible, yucky) side effects. But keeping to your schedule can help you feel more normal, and social relationships are important for support. So try not to drop out of the loop. Here at the club, we have a great social network with staff and members that can help keep you up.

Weight Lifting Options

In addition to the cardio options, staying strong is important for your function and your recovery.  So try some light weight activities.  A small sample program might include some of the following:

  • Wall squats with a stability ball, 12 reps
  • Push ups against the wall, 12 reps
  • Biceps curls, 3#, 12 reps
  • Triceps kickbacks, 3#, 12 reps
  • Bridges on the floor, 12 reps

If you feel you are able, you can go through this more than once. Remember, this is the time when you are going a bit easier, but still focusing on form and consistency.

The Importance of Stretching

Stretching in general helps to realign muscle fibers and lengthen shortened muscles, in addition to just feeling great! It should be a part of anyone’s exercise program, but particularly important for restoration during times of stress. And I think cancer treatment qualifies as a time of stress. So treat your body to a regular stretching routine. Here again, it’s not about more stress to the body, but a focus on restorative moves to keep you mobile. Consider trying a Pilates class for core strength and stretching (mine are 8:15 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday at River Glen), or a restorative yoga class that’s designed to help you recover.  Or, you could try some of the moves below:

Easy pose  – sit comfortably on a block or the floor, with your legs crossed, and your palms together. Take 5 long deep breaths.

Seated cat/cow – sitting in the same cross legged position, inhale and extend your spine, exhale and round. Do 5 and focus on slow intentional movement paired with your breath.

Seated spine twist – you can keep the legs crossed, or uncross them and extend them out in front of you.  Inhale to prepare, exhale and turn to one side, reaching one hand behind you and one over your center line. Inhale back to the center, and repeat on the other side. Do 5, slow and controlled.

Seated Side reach – again, the leg position is what is comfortable for you: the easy pose cross-legged sit or the legs out in front. Inhale to prepare, exhale, and reach your right arm up and over, while your left hand braces you on the left side. Repeat on the right, and do 5 total per side.

Legs up the Wall – Go over to the wall and sit sideways as close as you can to the wall. Then, lie down and roll to your back and extend both legs up the wall. You can cushion your lower back with a blanket, if that’s more comfortable for you.  

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This is a semi-supine pose that, when combined with controlled breathing, will slow the heart rate and elicit a relaxation response from your body, which in turn will help improve things like anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Because your legs are up, it will also help your veins drain and increase your circulation.  Additionally, many cancer patients will experience swelling in their legs or other extremities. This helps to reduce swelling, particularly in the feet and legs.

Incorporating different types of exercise into your wellness routine while undergoing treatment will help you decrease side effects, and increase your mood and overall well-being.

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Written by Melissa Abramovich, ACE CPT, NASM CGT, AAHFRP Medical Exercise Specialist at Elite Sports Club-River Glen

Melissa Abramovich went into Personal Training and Group Exercise instruction after successfully losing 140 pounds through healthy diet and exercise. Her desire to help others drove her forward into a career helping others to make healthier choices. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and now also a Medical Exercise Specialist (AAHFRP), helping clients with a myriad of health issues at Elite Sports Clubs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree, and many group exercise related certifications as well.

1 Comment

  • Linda Stone says:

    Hi Melissa, I am actually meeting a member newly diagnosed to work on light Pilates. This is a perfectly timed and very well considered article I will bring with me. Thank you, Linda S