Building a Base Fitness Level

Patient Excercising

A few months ago, we shared our favorite tips for fitting exercise into your treatment schedule, and discussed how important it was to respect your body’s current fitness level. Today, we’re taking a deeper look at how to build your fitness base so that you can safely increase your physical activity level.

Getting into – or back into – shape is something many mesothelioma patients struggle with. Some patients have not exercised in year. Others remained active until the side effects of treatment interfered with their ability to exercise. Regardless of the previous circumstances, building a fitness base is a challenge. However, once you have a consistent base, you can boost the length and intensity of your workouts to improve your overall fitness level.

The following tips were recommended by Anna Schwarz, Ph.D., family nurse practitioner and fellow of the American Academy of Nursing. These tips can help patients avoid working out too hard, too soon, and developing fatigue or injuries that could discourage them from continuing their fitness journey.

Work with a Trainer

Schwarz found that cancer patients who created their own fitness regimen often trained harder and faster than patients who followed a personal trainer’s plan. After four weeks, self-trained survivors were fitter and faster than those who worked with a personal trainer. However, after five or six weeks, most of the self-trained group had given up on the regimen because they found it too hard or too painful.

Schwarz recommends the LIVESTRONG program offered by most YMCA gyms. These programs are designed specifically for cancer survivors who need to build muscle mass, endurance and self-esteem. Licensed trainers can evaluate each patient’s personal ability level and adjust the training program after the patient has achieved a solid fitness base.

Track Your Progress

Keep records of your daily activity and daily fatigue levels. Schwarz suggests a simple one to 10 rating scale, with one being least active and least fatigued and 10 being most active and most fatigued. At the beginning of an exercise regimen, your activity levels should be low while you build your fitness base. Trainers should then gradually increase as your ability increases.

If your fatigue levels and exercise levels increase drastically at the same time, you may be exercising too much or too hard. Reduce the length and intensity of your workouts while continuing to track your activity and fatigue. If your fatigue does not go away – or you think it is not related to your exercise routine – be sure to contact your oncologist.

Start Small and Improve Gradually

Your exercise routine should incorporate small segments for each of the following components:

  • Strength training
  • Range of motion training/stretching
  • Cardiovascular fitness

You may find that some of these activities are easier than others. For instance, some patients can walk for an hour without feeling fatigued, but struggle with 10-pound weights. Evaluate your ability for each of these activities, and spend the first several weeks of your workout routine doing the same activity for the same amount of time. Once your body is used to the exertion, you can add time to cardiovascular routines or weight to strength training routines.

Shoot for 15 to 30 minutes of physical activity per day. If you cannot do 15 consecutive minutes, break up your exercise sessions into shorter segments, adding time until you have met the 15- to 30-minute goal.

Know When to Tone it Down

If you are struggling to breathe while exercising, you are likely exercising too hard. Stop and regain your breath. Once you feel back in control of your airflow, slow down or reduce the amount of weight you are handling.

Don’t hesitate to take one – or several – rest days if you feel like you cannot handle a workout.

You can find the rest of Schwartz’s advice in the October 2012 issue of Perspectives on Best Practices – Oncology.

What’s your current workout regiment? Is there a topic you would me to discuss? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.


After graduating with an English degree from Southeastern University in 2010, Faith Franz came on board as a health and wellness writer for The Mesothelioma Center.

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