Low-Impact Exercises Can Relieve Symptoms, Stress for Cancer Patient and Caregiver

Senior citizen who exercises

Battling mesothelioma is physically and mentally challenging for patients and caregivers.

The daily fight against cancer often drains the energy from both, leaving them too tired to exercise. That’s too bad because exercise can alleviate some of the illness’ symptoms and release stress.

Some people diagnosed with cancer understand this and practice varying levels of exercise, from low impact routines to more strenuous exercises. It’s important to remember to always ask your doctor what form of exercise works best for you.

High-Energy Workouts

For example, consider ESPN’s “SportsCenter” anchor Stuart Scott. The 48-year-old underwent chemotherapy in 2007 after doctors discovered cancerous tissue on his appendix. Doctors removed the appendix, but the appendiceal cancer returned in 2011. It went into remission a year later, but reappeared in 2013.

Scott told The New York Times in March that he uses a form of high-intensity cross-training exercises and mixed martial arts to keep him energized through his grueling chemotherapy treatments. Most people who aren’t fighting cancer couldn’t even do his workouts. His mindset is different though. It’s the same mindset that allowed him to kick cancer into remission twice.

“I never ask what stage I’m in,” he told the Times. “I haven’t wanted to know. It won’t change anything to me. All I know is that it would cause more worry and a higher degree of freak-out. Stage 1, 2 or 8, it doesn’t matter. I’m trying to fight it the best I can.”

Low-Impact Routines

For most people diagnosed with mesothelioma, performing Scott’s high-impact routine is unlikely because of the disease’s symptoms: Shortness of breath, minor fatigue, chest pain and respiratory complications (for those with advanced symptoms).

Caregivers might have a hard time keeping up that pace, too.

While his routine is difficult to follow, cancer patients and those who care for them can certainly channel his hope and faith into their own low-impact exercises.

On Sundays, I offer free beach workouts. Participants offer donations that I contribute toward cancer research. While I’ve never trained a person with cancer, here are a couple of exercises that could elevate your spirits and hopefully, alleviate some of the stresses you might feel while battling cancer or caregiving for a loved one.

Warm-Up

Go on a five-minute walk, outside if possible. Maintain a decent pace, and don’t make it a slow jog. Remember it’s a walk. Keep your chest up, shoulders back, head looking forward and core tight throughout the duration.

Over-Under

Imagine two waist-high hurdles next to your left hip. Take a big step sideways with your left leg over the first imaginary hurdle, then step over it again using your right leg. After that, dip your hips and squat under the second imaginary hurdle. Repeat the routine, but in the opposite direction. You can do this eight times.

Pushups

Man doing pushups

You know the routine: Place your body parallel to the floor, push up with your arms and return to starting position. You can modify these by putting your knees on the ground. These might be challenging for some, but try to do as many repetitions as you can.

Reverse Lunge, High Knee

Woman doing a Reverse Lunge

Stand with your hands on your hips and your torso vertical. Step back with your right leg and dip into a lunge position. Your right thigh should be parallel to the floor. Now, push through your left heel and bring your right knee up in front of your hips. Balance in this position for a second or two before stepping back with the right leg again. Try as many on the same side before switching to the other leg. You can eliminate the lunge if you experience any knee pain. Just step back without dropping down and bring your knee up.

Plank

Man doing a plank

Start with your stomach flat on the floor with your forearms bent, but parallel to the floor. Tighten your stomach and lift your body, keeping it straight. Flex your abdominals and squeeze your glutes tight. Focus on your breathing, too. Hold the position for 30 seconds. If the position is too demanding, bend your knees to the floor and continue the process.

Side Plank

Man doing a side plank

Start by lying on your left side, raising your left elbow and using it to prop the rest of your body so it is angled to the floor. Tighten your abs and glutes while holding that pose for 30 seconds.

Cool Down

Go on a five-minute walk and stretch. The same principles apply to this walk as the one that started your workout. When you stretch, try to hold it for 20 seconds before returning to a relaxed position. Stretching will reduce soreness, improve range of motion and help prevent injury.

Complete each exercise (with the suggested repetitions) with as little rest between them. Once you finish all five exercises, then you’ve completed one set. Rest about 90 seconds between each set and repeat as many times as you feel necessary.

I’d recommend somewhere between one and three sets for someone going through treatments — depending on how you feel. Always remember to check with your doctor before attempting any low- or high-impact exercises.

Be sure to comment on the blog if you have any questions. Remember: Never give up!


Adam Lee is a personal trainer and blogger who writes for The Mesothelioma Center and his personal fitness blog. After losing his stepfather to mesothelioma, he offers his training services to raise money for cancer research.

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