Higher Quality of Life for Cancer Patients Who Exercise

Older Couple Stretching After Workout Session

Physical exercise and activity often were not recommended for some cancer survivors and patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Some health care professionals, who perhaps were unfamiliar with the benefits of exercise, viewed it as too hard or taxing on the body, especially for those patients with weaker immune systems.

That view leaves me scratching my head as I try to understand their reasoning.

In my opinion, some individuals dealing with a cancer diagnosis are some of the physically and mentally strongest people. Facing something so frightening and charging into battle against it is nothing short of inspirational.
There is current research that is beginning to show us the benefits exercise can have for cancer patients and survivors.

How Much Exercise Is Sufficient?

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in 2011 published the new exercise guidelines for cancer patients.
“We’re seeing better everyday function and overall higher quality of life for cancer survivors who exercise,” said Kathryn Schmitz, Ph.D., lead author of the cancer recommendations.

Patients diagnosed with cancer and survivors are becoming more active and are healthier and happier because of it. But also remember to check with your doctor first to determine if you’re healthy enough to begin an exercise routine.

Generally, ACSM recommends people going through cancer treatment get 20-30 minutes of aerobic physical activity daily. However, an increasing number of articles are surfacing about the toll long-lasting and steady-state cardiovascular exercises can have on overall muscle mass.

I’m not an advocate for doing only one type of training. If you love running, then run. If you love lifting heavy weights, then lift heavy weights, but don’t completely neglect other forms of training that can be highly beneficial for cancer patients and survivors.

A 2013 study published by the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology found “there is moderate evidence supporting a positive effect of progressive resistance training on lean body mass in post-treatment cancer patients.”

Cancer-related fatigue dropped during the duration of the study because of the resistance training protocol. In addition, strength training also had a positive impact on subject’s overall functionality. That means those monitored generally felt better, looked better, and most importantly, moved better.

I would suggest doing a full body light to moderate strength training session three days a week and then light to moderate cardiovascular activity another two days a week. Focus one day on mobility work to help improve range of motion, as well as reduce risk for injury.

Also, have a day where you don’t do much physical activity at all in order to give yourself time to recover. You don’t get strong while working out. You get strong while recovering.

Here’s an example of a weekly routine:

  • Monday: Full body barbell and dumbbell moderate resistance training
  • Tuesday: Light to moderate walk or jog
  • Wednesday: Mobility work such as myofascial release (soft tissue therapy) and stretch
  • Thursday: Full body barbell and dumbbell moderate resistance training
  • Friday: Light to moderate walk or jog
  • Saturday: Full body, body weight light resistance training
  • Sunday: Nothing at all

Stick with Your Exercise Plan

Whether you’re battling cancer, surviving cancer or caretaking, I suggest you make a fitness plan and stick with it.
I encourage all of you to have a purpose behind your fitness routine. Maybe it’s because it will help you look and feel better and stronger than before. Or maybe it’s because it will help you knock that cancer out.

Never lose sight of that purpose. Keep walking, running, lifting — and Never Give Up.

  1. Lonbro, S. (2014 January) The effect of progressive resistance training on lean body mass in post-treatment cancer patients - a systematic review. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24060169
  2. American College of Sports Medicine. (2011 August 1). New Guidelines Strongly Recommend Exercise for Cancer Patients, Survivors. Retrieved from http://www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/acsm-in-the-news/2011/08/01/new-guidelines-strongly-recommend-exercise-for-cancer-patients-survivors

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.

Related Blog Posts

Discover Our Free Resources & Services

Learn What We Offer

Social Media

Top Authors

View our resources for patients and families

Get Help Today
Get Your Free Mesothelioma Guide