Importance of Exercise When You Have Cancer

Cancer and exercise in singapore

Once your doctor has confirmed that you are a cancer patient, starting an exercising routine would be the last thing for you to worry about. Well, it is understandable. You are suffering from cancer and you might feel exercising will not provide you with the required relief that you want.

We humans have this understandable assumption that certain things might not work without trying it. With the latest demand in new methods of treatment and a medical test, it might be a wise decision to try out exercising, less it turns out to be an effective means of easing your health condition and taking your mind off from cancer and chemotherapy.

Exercising Can Be A Relief During Cancer Treatment

Various research has pointed out that moderate kinds of exercises will assist in improving one’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Doctors and cancer treatment experts feel exercising helps to control one’s weight, elevate the mood, sleep better, and gain relief from various feelings like disappointment, and sadness that is common during the cancer diagnosis.

Furthermore, regular exercise increases the flexibility and muscle strength of the cancer patient. These lack of flexibility and strength are common side effects of the surgery and therapy. Also, exercising improves one’s cardiovascular functions and protects the bones. Doing regular exercises is known to reduce stress and provides more energy. This will help in speeding up the recovery for cancer patients.

Exercising Helps in Fighting Fatigue

Most of the time cancer treatment like radiation, chemotherapy, and bone marrow transplant lower the body energy of patients. Here this happens because cancer drugs will not only attack the cancer cells, but they will also beat up the healthy cells like red blood cells. Hence, the patient would suffer from anemia and this will make them feel fatigued.

Most cancer specialists and doctors state that fatigue is the common physical effect of all cancer treatment. Of course, the fatigue reduces or stops as soon as the treatment is completed; still, this is the common issue that cancer patients go through. Now, this might sound counterintuitive, however, exercise will assist in managing one’s fatigue. Various studies support those cancer patients, who are regularly exercising, experience 45%-55% of less fatigue. Seriously, it is true that one might have to take a huge effort in first getting up and moving around, still, there is no doubt that exercising will provide a huge benefit in lowering the fatigue of cancer patients.

Benefits of Exercising for Cancer Patients

If you are following a good and well-designed exercising regime after and during the treatment, you can –

  • Reduce the chances of suffering the physical side effects like nausea, fatigue, osteoporosis, neuropathy, etc.
  • Makes you as much mobile as possible and independent.
  • Lower the chances of suffering from anxiety and depression.
  • Improves your body balance and lowers the chances of getting injured.
  • Prevents the loss of muscles and builds strength.
  • Improves your sleep.
  • Avoids gaining weight and obesity.
  • Reduces the required amount of time you would have to stay at the hospital.
  • Lowers the chances of getting other cancer.
  • Provides you and increases your treatments chance for effectively destroying the tumour cells.
  • Avoids all other chronic diseases like diabetes, heart diseases, etc.
  • Improves the quality of your life.

Before Opting for Exercising

Make sure you discuss with your doctor or cancer specialist before you begin the exercising program. It is important that you have thoroughly talked about the necessity of exercising with the doctor during and after the cancer treatment.

Now as it is proven that exercising can be great during the various types of cancer treatment, here the ability of yours to exercise and the kind of exercise to do is based on certain factors like the treatment being used, type of cancer you are suffering from, side affects you might experience, level of fitness, and other major health issues.

Sometimes you might not be able to go for the same exercise routine as before when you are physically fit. One thing you need to keep in mind is that it will take some time for you to return to your pre-cancer fitness level. You can ask your doctor to recommend an experienced cancer exercise specialist for designing the best exercising program. Here the best part is that you can do is follow the plan independently or the exercise specialist will work with you for some time until you get used to it.

What Needs to Be Added In Your Exercise Program?

Having various kinds of exercises is the best key for an effective and safe exercising program. This is common during and after cancer treatment. Here the whole program must contain –

Breathing Exercises

Certain people who suffer from cancer might have difficulty in breathing or shortness in breath. This would keep them from being physically fit. Through the breathing exercise, air will move in and out of the lungs, thereby improving one’s endurance.

Most importantly, such exercises can help in lowering the chances of getting stress. Even you can reduce the anxiety that tightens your muscles through exercise.


Regular stretching can improve one’s posture and flexibility. Not only that, but it will also help to increase the blood flow and provide the required oxygen to the muscles. This will help your body to repair itself.

Basically, stretching is a great exercise whenever you are inactive and recovering from cancer treatment. For example, radiation therapy would limit your range of motion. This will also cause your muscles to stiffen too. Hence, after surgery, stretching will break down the scar tissues.

Balance Exercising

One of the major side effects of cancer is the loss of balance and that can be cured through balance exercises. With balance exercises, you can regain the mobility and function necessary for safely doing daily activities. Furthermore, maintaining great balance avoids all kinds of injuries including falls.

Aerobic Exercises

Called as cardio exercises, the aerobic workouts are the best exercises for raising one’s heart rate. Not only it strengthens your lungs and heart, but it also assists in making you feel less tired during and after the cancer treatment. Do you know walking is one of the easiest methods of aerobic exercise?

Various studies show that 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercises is a great way for cancer patients to become fit. Even they can do 75 minutes of vigorous and hardcore intensity exercises to gain the required strength after the cancer treatment.

Types of Cancers Exercising Can Help In

Various studies and research work are stating that a high level of physical activity will help in reducing and lowering the risk of many cancers. Some of them are –

1) Bladder Cancer

Various studies show that the risk of bladder cancer was 15% lower for individuals performing a high level of occupational or recreational physical activities than those having the lowest levels. The analysis was done on more than one million people clearly stated that leisure-related activities were linked for a 13% reduction in bladder cancer.

2) Breast Cancer

Multiple studies clearly show that physically active women have less chance of suffering from breast cancer than inactive ones. During a study done in late 2016, it was shown that most of the physically active women had 14-22% fewer chances of suffering from breast cancer compared to those who were not physically active.

For many years, exercising and physical activity were often related to reducing the chances of getting breast cancer, especially among postmenopausal and premenopausal women. In addition, women who increase their physical activity status after menopause have fewer chances of suffering from breast cancer compared to those who do not do.

3) Colon Cancer

A study conducted in early 2016, showed that individuals engaged in a high amount of physical activity and exercising had 19% less chances of getting colon cancer compared to ones who never did any kind of physical activity.

4) Endometrial Cancer

There are various meta-analyses and cohort studies clearly showing the relationship between the risk of endometrial cancer and physical activity. As per the meta-analyses of various 33 studies, it was shown that highly physically active women had 20% less risk of suffering from endometrial cancer compared to women who had less physical activity. Most importantly, there is certain evidence indirectly suffering the association that physical activity will reduce one’s obesity.

5) Esophageal Cancer

As per the various case-control studies, it was clearly observed that physically active individuals had 22% less chances of suffering from esophageal adenocarcinoma compared to the ones that were not physically active.

Doing Exercise During Treatment

Now it is important for taking a good amount of precaution while you are exercising, especially when you have side effects of the cancer treatment. Here you would need to modify your exercise plan based on the specific side affects you are suffering from. For example, now if the treatment is affecting your nerves present in your hand, you better go for weight machines as it will be safer compared to hand weights. The same can be said for treatment caused due to bone loss. In such a case, you should avoid putting all kinds of strain on your neck and increase your risk of falling.

There are various methods to make sure you are getting the most out of your workout plan and that too in a safe manner. Some of them are –

  • Progress in Slow Way: You might have been physically active before the treatment, but you should slowly build up your level of activity after or during the cancer treatment. In such a case, you can avoid all kinds of injuries and keep yourself from getting discouraged.
  • Exercising in Safe Environment: There are chances that the treatment might weaken your immune system. Hence, just avoid going to large gyms where the germs would spread easily.
  • Hear Your Body: Sometimes your energy level might be low. Just try to adjust how hard or low you want to exercise until you are feeling better.
  • Be Hydrated: Try to drink a lot of water while working out. This will help in avoiding dehydration.
  • Consume Nutritious Diet: By having the right nutritious food filled with a good amount of proteins will assist your body to recover after exercising. With the assistance of an oncology dietitian, you can easily create a nutritious plan.
  • Regular Visit of Your Doctor: No doubt, your health will change throughout the treatment. Always make sure your doctor is checking out the necessary health indicators like your blood count, heart rate, etc. This will help to know if you can exercise.

Listen to Your Body

Keep in mind that exercising should not be an hour of high-powered running long distance or aerobics. Here it can go around be something like any kind of physical activity.

As per the NCCN (National Comprehensive Cancer Network), cancer patients should start at a slow rate and then they need to gradually increase their activity a bit by time as time progresses. Based on the fitness and comfort level of the patient, the exercise can begin with 5-10 minutes of walk right around the block. Also, after that, you can do exercise for about 20 minutes or longer.

It is important that you try to do at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week or more. However, make sure to take it in an easy way. By doing too much and lot, would end up making you feel discouraged and ultimately lead you to stop exercising. Most importantly, if you were regular to the gym before suffering from cancer, then you would need to lower the intensity of your workout for some time.

Ultimately, you should listen to what your body is trying to save. Make sure to scale back your efforts as soon as your body shows the sign. Some days, you might have less energy compared to other days, so try to cut-down your exercising regime. It is not just a goal that you want to achieve but making your body strong and able to undergo tough cancer treatment.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.

You might also like