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Exercise for mesothelioma benefits nearly all patients. Light to moderate cardio activities such as walking, biking or swimming improve lung function and heart health. Adding safe exercises to your daily routine can also help manage cancer symptoms and treatment side effects.

Can Exercise Improve Mesothelioma Symptoms and Treatment?

Exercise is one of the most accessible ways for mesothelioma patients to improve symptoms, reduce treatment side effects and increase therapeutic benefits. It can help with the outcomes of surgery, your response to chemotherapy or immunotherapy and your ability to tolerate future therapies.

Daily activity and exercise for mesothelioma heighten the immune system’s response to cancer. Moderate exercises increase blood vessel health and durability over time. Larger blood vessels make systemic treatments such as immunotherapy and chemotherapy more effective at reaching mesothelioma tumors.

“The holy grail for mesothelioma treatment, I think, is harvesting the immune system, and exercise can actually help contribute to that. We’re seeing that in the lab on a cellular level.”

Some studies show that exercise can lower the risk of cancer recurrence or relapse. After exercise, patients report benefits in their mood, energy levels and sleep habits. They also note that exercise lowers their anxiety levels. Even light exercise can significantly improve the quality of daily life. 

Appropriate daily exercises are necessary for healing after aggressive treatments such as surgery. Exercise for cancer patients reduces inflammation and insulin levels, making it easier for the body to heal. Compared to no exercise, patients who follow exercise guidelines have 25% lower cancer mortality and a reduction in postoperative hospital stay and complications. 

elerly couple stretch in a park

Getting Started With a Mesothelioma Exercise Routine

The hardest part of exercise for mesothelioma is getting started and overcoming any initial fears or anxieties. After a mesothelioma diagnosis, almost everyone experiences some symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and depression. The first few times you work out might feel dreadful but don’t confuse discomfort with pain.

Pain, shortness of breath and other severe symptoms of mesothelioma can make patients worry that exercise will worsen their symptoms. In truth, exercise decreases these symptoms for many patients. Adding a short walk, dance or household chore to your daily routine can get you physically ready to start exercising.

Tips For Getting Started With a Mesothelioma Exercise Routine
Tips For Getting Started With Exercising For Mesothelioma Treatment

While exercise may help manage mental health issues for a mesothelioma patient, those same issues provide the most significant challenges when starting exercise. A little activity during your day is the best way to overcome fatigue, often the most significant hurdle for mesothelioma patients. 

One 2023 study in Supportive Care in Cancer found that combined aerobic, resistance and balance exercises were the most effective methods of reducing cancer-related fatigue. Another 2023 study in the Journal of the National Medical Association reported that cancer patients who took a moderate-intensity 75-minute walk every week had lower fatigue and improved quality of life after 8 weeks. 

Prehabilitation

Preoperative rehabilitation, or prehabilitation, takes place before a surgery or procedure to reduce complications and facilitate recovery. A 2023 review of 16 studies conducted by the DMIHER Center for Advanced Physiotherapy Education & Research found that prehab significantly reduced postoperative pulmonary complications and hospital length of stay.

The most effective exercises before surgery include shoulder and pelvic muscle routines, aerobic exercises and respiratory strengthening. This set of priorities focuses on the parts of the body that help you get out of bed and move around quickly after surgery.

Did You Know?
Prehabilitation in patients who had a lobectomy (removal of a lung lobe) increased peak oxygen consumption up to 43%.
Source: Sharma, V.S. & Yadav, V.; 2023

Safe exercises for mesothelioma patients don’t have to be strenuous. Mid-level activities and exercise regimens can be just as efficient. Your mesothelioma doctor can help you develop the most appropriate exercise plan based on your needs and goals. 

If you fear worsening symptoms with exercise or are having difficulty overcoming fatigue, talk to your mesothelioma specialist. There are levels of exercise appropriate for nearly everyone with mesothelioma. Programs such as prehabilitation can help ensure you stay in great shape before and after even the most aggressive treatments. 

Elderly man enjoys being active by biking through nature

Best Exercises for Mesothelioma Patients

The best exercises for mesothelioma patients include balance and coordination exercises, aerobic, strength training and flexibility. These categories encompass many engaging activities for survivors and older adults to stay active and healthy. Always consult a health care provider before starting any new exercise routines or increasing the difficulty of your current exercises. 

Many adventurous mesothelioma survivors have shared their experiences with The Mesothelioma Center. Skiing, riding motorcycles, playing sports, weightlifting and so much more are all possible for people with mesothelioma. Many mesothelioma survivors continue bicycling, golfing, swimming and hiking for long after their diagnosis and throughout treatment.

Patricia Stevens doing goat yoga

Pleural mesothelioma survivor Patricia Stevens, 76, enjoys baby goat yoga at Wildflower Farms in Orlando. She says it helps her maintain a positive attitude and feel young again.

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Terry Latham walking on treadmill

Gifted athlete and ten-year pleural mesothelioma survivor Terry Latham walks the treadmill in his garage and the hills in his neighborhood, recording 3,000 to 4,000 steps daily.

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Jose Perez enjoying daily bike ride

Pleural mesothelioma survivor Jose Perez says getting sun is essential for him. He rides his bike for 40 minutes daily, followed by a walk in the afternoon.

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Wall Rogers on a nature walk

Pleural mesothelioma survivor and skier Wally Rogers keeps in shape with countryside hikes near his home. Rogers works out regularly, lifting weights to regain strength.

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Hatsie H enjoys walking in Amsterdam

Pleural mesothelioma survivor Hatsie H. has enjoyed hiking in Amsterdam. Her exercise regimen includes weight lifting, hiking, swimming and cycling.

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You can modify your favorite sports or hobbies to continue doing the activities that most interest you. Pleural mesothelioma survivor Hatsie H. now plays pickleball instead of tennis, takes fast walks instead of runs and skis on the tamer blue and green slopes instead of the challenging black diamond trails.

Skiing smaller slopes or swimming fewer laps are easy ways to continue doing what you enjoy. Getting excited about working out is an essential aspect of exercise for mesothelioma. If you were active before your mesothelioma diagnosis, work with your providers to figure out how to get back to doing what you love most. 

Aerobic Exercises

Aerobic exercise is any activity that gets your heart pumping. The best and most accessible way to start aerobic exercise is to walk for 5 to 10 minutes daily. The Mesothelioma Center’s 2024 survey showed that 61% of respondents walk regularly for exercise. 

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. This level of activity provides the most benefit for mesothelioma patients. However, don’t feel you need to hit that goal right away. Any amount of movement is better than none.

Each patient’s exercise guidelines will differ based on ability, cancer progression and overall health. Safe aerobic activity can involve light-intensity movements like slow walking or climbing stairs. Moderate-intensity exercise includes brisk walks, dancing, gardening, slow bicycling and water aerobics.

Examples of Aerobic Exercise and a Tip for Climbing Stairs
Examples of Aerobic Exercise and Tip for Climbing Stairs

If your exercise plan allows vigorous exercise, you can push yourself further. These exercises include hiking, tennis, cycling, running, swimming and jumping rope. For maximum benefits, the AHA suggests including multiple types of intensity in your activities throughout the week.

Adding aerobic exercise to your daily routine lessens mesothelioma symptoms, improves sleep, reduces depression and anxiety symptoms and enhances the quality of life. It also lowers the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, dementia and other cancers.

Strength Training

The safest way to benefit from strength training is to start with your weight. If you’re sitting, stretching your legs will work your quads. Then you can progress to ankle weights. If you don’t have experience with weightlifting, you can use bands. Start with the minimum you can do and work your way up.

In addition to your weight, strength training can include hand weights, exercise machines or resistance bands. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 2 days each week of full-body strength training. In The Mesothelioma Center’s 2024 survey, 11% of respondents said they engaged in some form of strength training for exercise.

Examples of Strength Training Exercises and a Tip for Arm Raises
Examples of Strength Training Exercises and Tip for Arm Raises

During cancer treatment and recovery, you may be less active and at a higher risk of muscle loss. Strength or resistance training maintains and builds muscle for balance and energy. Strength training can also reduce the effects of osteoporosis, a bone-weakening condition some cancer treatments can cause. 

As you exercise with weights, consider your environment. To protect yourself from falls, avoid uneven surfaces. Avoid gyms if you have a compromised immune system. Focus on your form and start slow. Ensure you can do 10 repetitions without fail before increasing the weight. Wait a day between strength training sessions to allow your body to recover.

Flexibility Exercises

Flexibility exercises improve the range of motion and include stretching, lunges, yoga, pilates and tai chi. Taking time to stretch lightly throughout the day or dance around the house is an easy way to start with flexibility exercises. In The Mesothelioma Center’s 2024 study, only 6% of respondents regularly perform flexibility exercises. 

Improved flexibility allows you to reach further and move your body without pain or discomfort. For mesothelioma patients, that means being able to move around and perform more of your daily tasks without assistance.

Examples of Flexibility Exercises and a Tip for Side Reaches
Examples of Flexibility Exercises and Tip for Side Reaches

When your body isn’t flexible, it can be harder to regain your range of motion after bed rest following surgery. A phenomenon such as a frozen shoulder could mean losing the ability to use your arm for simple tasks until medication or physical therapy can reverse the stiffness.

Performing flexibility exercises regularly and before procedures help prevent a frozen shoulder and other range of motion complications. If you’re having issues reaching for what you need at home or moving from one position to another, consider adding stretching and flexibility exercises to your routine.

Balance and Coordination Exercises

Balance and coordination exercises work the muscles that help you walk and move confidently without injury. These exercises include standing on 1 foot, walking along a line on the floor or using a balance board. 

For safety, perform balance training in an area without clutter or obstacles. When you first start, use a chair or wall for support. If possible, have someone nearby to observe you for safety in case of a fall.

Example of Tree Pose and Tip for Safety
Example of Tree Pose and Tip for Safety

Joint mobility is a crucial benefit of balance and coordination exercises. Incorporating these exercises into your routine can increase your range of motion and reduce muscle tension. Over time, everyday movements become more manageable and fluid. In addition to improving overall function, these exercises prevent stiffness or discomfort. 

Aim for a well-rounded approach to fitness, combining balance, coordination and flexibility exercises to optimize your physical health and mobility over time. Always listen to your body and contact your health care provider before starting a new program or if you have any questions. 

Mesothelioma Exercise Cover Step by Step guide
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Exercise Frequency and Intensity

For aerobic activity, the most common type of exercise, aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity or a combination of both. Moderate activities include walking, slow cycling, yoga or water exercise. Vigorous exercises can consist of brisk walking, hiking, basketball or tennis.

It’s best to start slowly and work from a few minutes to half an hour and, eventually, a full hour 3 to 5 times per week. During mesothelioma treatment, several short sessions may be more accessible than fewer long ones. Most importantly, move more throughout the day to avoid inactivity, such as walking to the mailbox or dancing around the kitchen.

“If you push too hard at one go, you may set yourself back because it can, in my experience, take days to get over trying to do too much. You know your own body better than anyone else.”

When strength training, aim for 2 to 3 times weekly with a rest day between sessions. Make your goal 6 to 15 repetitions for each major muscle group. Then, increase the weight when you can reliably do 15 repetitions. When stretching or doing flexibility and balance exercises, start at 2 to 3 days per week and work up to daily routines. 

The proper mesothelioma exercise and frequency are unique to each individual. An expert in exercise medicine can create a tailored program specific to your needs. 

Your exercise should require light to medium effort, but stop if you experience dizziness, difficulty breathing or extreme fatigue. Remember to warm up and cool down during each session, and start low and go slow before increasing your pace.

Survivor Story
Michael Cole Pleural Mesothelioma

10 Health Tips From a Mesothelioma Survivor

Survivor Story

After my extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery they had me up walking within a very short period of time. It was hard, and I really didn’t want to, but they told me if I didn’t I would die. Not a bad motivator. My wife helps motivate me to exercise, even when I don’t want to. Before my illness I was very active and got quite a lot of exercise. Illness and treatments can change that.

Read More About Michael’s Story

Monitoring Progress and Making Adjustments

Building a plan and tracking your progress is critical to measuring success. When you begin exercising, keep a daily log of the types of exercises you perform, how many reps, and for how long. Measure your fatigue on a scale from zero to 10, and note your current medications and treatments, as these may change during your exercise journey. 

When you feel you’ve hit a wall with progress, your daily log will make it much easier to figure out what isn’t working. You may need to change when or where you exercise. Sometimes, you may need to adjust your form or modify an exercise for comfort. Find an activity buddy around your home or a cancer support group that can help follow your progress.

Elderly woman receives assistance while learning new exercises

Overcoming Challenges and Obstacles

When deciding where and how to exercise, mesothelioma patients face unique risks, such as infection and injury. Mesothelioma chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and other treatments cause side effects that can make exercise more challenging.

If you suffer from chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), you may need to use handrails when walking on a treadmill to reduce the risk of falling. Irritated or open skin from radiation could lead to a higher risk of infection from swimming pools or public gyms.

Challenge Solution
High-Risk of Infection Public gym spaces and equipment can harbor germs. Avoid using public-use equipment and work out at home.
Radiation Therapy Skin can be sensitive and prone to infection. Avoid swimming and other aquatic exercises.
Peripheral Neuropathy Tingling pain and reduced sensation in hands and feet. Use handrails on a treadmill to avoid falling.
Fatigue Reduced energy and motivation to exercise. Reduced energy and motivation to exercise. Prioritize rest when needed and find ways to add light activity throughout the day.
Bone Density Loss Increased risk of fractures. Add weight-bearing exercises to your routine, such as walking or strength training.

Most mesothelioma patients experience fatigue and have trouble finding the energy to exercise. Try breaking up workouts into shorter sessions. Focus on activities you enjoy and that energize you. Consider scheduling workouts when your energy levels are typically higher.

Specific cancer treatments such as hormone therapy and chemotherapy can increase the risk of bone density loss and osteoporosis. To maintain bone health and reduce the risk of fractures, incorporate weight-bearing exercises into your routine such as walking, jogging or strength training with resistance bands or weights.

Elderly couple stays active by walking together

Tips for Success

Before taking the first step toward a more active lifestyle, you can set yourself up for success in several ways. Proactively protecting your safety and health ensures you’ll benefit most from exercise and cancer treatments. 

Dealing with a mesothelioma diagnosis and undergoing treatment can take a toll on your emotional state and increase stress levels. To support your mental health and well-being, prioritize self-care activities such as meditation, mindfulness or relaxation techniques. These activities can help reduce stress and promote emotional resilience.

Top 5 Tips for Mesothelioma Exercise Success
  1. Ask your treatment or wellness center if they have a cancer exercise program. Some cancer specialists and physical therapists are also Certified Cancer Exercise Trainers.
  2. Bring a friend to your first few workouts who can watch for signs of danger. Afterward, carry a cellphone or medical response device in an emergency.
  3. Engage in activities that bring you joy and provide a sense of fulfillment such as a sport or hobby you enjoy or a location that fills you with happiness and peace.
  4. If you have lymphedema or swelling in the limbs, try wearing compression sleeves or socks during strength or resistance training.
  5. Stay in touch with your mesothelioma specialist. Keep them updated on whether you want to try a new exercise, if you’re having more pain or any other changes.

Preparing yourself for success during mesothelioma exercise means more benefits, including reduced side effects and better effects from treatment. Fatigue is the most significant barrier to success, so finding ways to be active and have fun is the best way to get started. 

Rest is vital for mesothelioma patients undergoing an exercise program, but it’s crucial not to sit or lie down all day. Start moving again as soon as you can. Work on a project you’ve been putting off or play with the grandkids. Every little bit of activity helps.

Hands joined in support

Additional Resources and Support

Working with a mesothelioma or cancer exercise specialist is the best way to get connected to more exercise resources. Finding a local program structured for cancer patients ensures you’ll get the help and support you need to stay on track to success.

  • Exercise Program Directory: The American College of Sports Medicine’s Moving Through Cancer program provides a directory for exercise programs in your area.
  • The ONE Group: The Oncology, Nutrition and Exercise Group at Penn State College of Medicine offers videos, partner workouts and a Workout of the Week.
  • Livestrong at YMCA: The Livestrong program involves certified fitness instructors who can tailor cancer exercise regimens to your needs for free or at a reduced cost.
  • Maple Tree Cancer Alliance: Patients enrolled in one of Maple Tree’s exercise programs receive custom exercise programs from diagnosis through survivorship.
  • Zakim Center at Dana-Farber: Renowned mesothelioma treatment center Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Zakim Center offers free exercise and healthy living group classes.

Nearly every mesothelioma patient can benefit from some form of exercise or activity. If you’re curious about mesothelioma exercise or looking to improve your activity levels, don’t hesitate to contact one of The Mesothelioma Center’s Patient Advocates for your personalized guide. 

How the Survey Was Conducted

This study consisted of a 12-question survey. The survey ran during February 2024. It was conducted using Jotform. 

The sample consisted of no less than 100 completed responses. Participants included people with a confirmed mesothelioma diagnosis and the loved ones of people with a confirmed mesothelioma diagnosis.