Exercise During Cancer: Benefits & Workout Options

Exercise During Cancer: Benefits & Workout Options

Are you going through cancer treatments or just finished up? You may feel a little worn down. Don’t worry, it’s normal to feel like therapy sapped your strength.

The good news is exercise can help you maintain or rebuild your stamina! Talk with your doctor about what workouts are safest for you right now. Then, jump in a get started—you’ll see lots of benefits.

The Upside of Exercise

You know regular exercise is heart- and lung-healthy. Did you know it can also help you handle chemotherapy or radiation? Hitting the gym, like Sagewell Health & Fitness, can potentially bring several positives to the table:

  • Fewer side effects (nausea, fatigue, swelling)
  • Improved treatment effectiveness
  • Better mobility
  • Improved balance
  • Lower depression, anxiety risk
  • Less treatment-related weight gain
  • Better sleep
  • Less muscle loss
  • Limited hospitalization

Exercises to Try During Treatment and Beyond

Even if you’ve been physically active for a while, you might need to scale back right now. That doesn’t mean spending all day on the couch, though. Light-to-moderate exercise when you have the most energy during the day goes a long way to maintaining your fitness. Try these five exercises.

Breathing exercises

Cancer treatment can cause shortness-of-breath. These exercises can strengthen your lungs:

  • Deep breathing
  • Diaphragm breathing


Cancer therapy can knock you off balance. Try these exercises to improve your stability:

  • Standing on one foot
  • Calf raises
  • Leg raises
  • Tight-rope walking
  • Grapevine walking


Stretching makes you more flexible, it improves blood flow to your muscles, and it helps you recover from treatments. For example, it fights the limited range-of-motion caused by radiation therapy, and it can break down scars from surgery. Try these stretches:

  • Knee-to-chest stretch
  • Hip raises
  • Chest/shoulder stretches
  • Standing quadricep stretches

Aerobic Exercise

Yes, this means cardio. Getting 30-50 minutes of exercise 3-4 times weekly can keep your heart and lungs strong while you’re going through cancer treatment. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Walking at a moderate pace
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Water aerobics
  • Dancing

Resistance Training

If you’re not as active during your therapy, you can lose muscle mass. Resistance training can help you hold on to your strength. Add these exercises to your routine:

  • Standing squats
  • Lunges
  • Bicep curls with weights
  • Shoulder presses with weights

Dealing with cancer and treatment can be hard on your body. You’ll always have days where you need to rest but do your best to stay active. It will help you get through therapy and keep you healthier longer.

Michael Sabin | Sagewell Health & FitnessMichael Sabin is general manager for Sagewell Health & Fitness. He holds a bachelor’s degree in health education and a master’s degree in exercise science from Western Michigan University. Throughout his career, he has worked as a personal trainer, executive director, general manager, and owner of his own fitness company. Once an avid runner who raced in 10Ks and half marathons, he is now a dedicated cyclist.

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