LHI Tip of the Week – The Benefits of Exercise for Cancer Patients

This week’s Tip of the Week is featuring a guest blogger, Melanie Bowen, a Master’s student and member of the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance as an awareness advocate for natural health and cancer cure initiatives.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that healthy adults take part in at least two and a half hours of physical activity per week.  However, many patients and survivors of cancer are confused as to if and how exercise can benefit them.  Whether you are undergoing treatment for breast cancer, mesothelioma, or prostate cancer, exercise can provide many benefits.

In fact, the recommendations for exercise are actually the same for those who are undergoing treatment for cancer.  Still, there are certain types of exercise that may be more helpful to cancer patients then others.  Of course, each day of treatment coincides with different levels of motivation and energy, yet even something as simple as walking up and down a single flight of stairs can do wonders to improve physical health and mood.

As radiation and chemotherapy treatments progress, the more exhaustion the patient tends to feel.  Being able to rate the level of your fatigue on a scale of one to ten with one being the least amount or no amount of fatigue can help you to evaluate how much physical exertion you might be willing to undertake.  If you find that you are only feeling mildly fatigued on any given day, participating in some form of exercise can work wonders for the days, weeks and months ahead.  The four main types of fitness to focus on whether you are being treated for cancer or not, are:  stretching, balance, aerobic exercise, and strength training.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic workouts or cardiovascular training serve to increase the heart rate, increase stamina, and improve mood. Running or walking is a perfect example of effective aerobic exercise, and you don’t need to have a gym membership to take part in either one!  Running or walking for as little as 10 minutes each day can not only decrease fat but, it can boost the metabolism and increase lean muscle.  Since excess fat can increase the risk factors when it comes to cancer, focusing on maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce any cancer risks and even reduce the chance of cancer recurring.  Aerobic exercise can also lift your spirits no matter how down you may be.  It can even decrease the recovery time following operations.

Strength Training

Strength training is important when it comes to combatting the loss of muscle that occurs with the natural aging process as well as cancer treatments.  This form of training can involve resistance training with the use of barbells, dumbbells and even your own body weight.  However, muscle mass and bone density in a cancer patient is going to be somewhat different.

Women tend to lose a significant amount of bone density during cancer treatments.  In fact, a woman being treated for cancer can lose up to as much density in a single year that an average woman will lose in ten years.  Because of this, strength training is extremely important for both men and women who are being treated for cancer.  The more lean muscle mass you have, the more pressure those muscles are going to put on your bones.  While strength training won’t directly improve bone density, the weight-bearing training that it requires will help to maintain it.

Balance Training

It is often too easy to take for granted a good sense of balance.  However, balance is what is attributed to keeping your workouts tumble and slip-free.  Since chemotherapy can cause a decrease in bone mass, many times all it takes is a single fall in order to break a bone.

Both cancer survivors and patients must make it a priority to keep exercises involving balance a part of their daily routine. You don’t need to leave the comfort of your own home to work on your balance, either.  By simply standing in one place while raising one heel slowly up and down can be enough to improve balance.  These exercises are so simple and require minimal energy that they can often be performed immediately following cancer treatment.


For cancers that may require surgery, some people might feel rather weak in specific areas of the body.  A good example would be of a patient that has undergone mastectomies for breast cancer.  These patients are likely to experience a feeling of weakness near their shoulders or in their rotator cuff.  Asking your doctor for stretching and exercises specifically tailored to the area of the body that has been weakened can serve to increase the range of motion quicker than if no exercises were applied at all.

Exercise is one of the cheapest and best natural cancer fighters available to us.  However, it is always important to first consult your doctor before embarking on any kind of physical exercise routine, particularly if you are being treated for cancer.

Melanie’s Bio:

Melanie is currently a Master’s student with a passion that stems from her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis. She often highlights the great benefits of alternative nutritional, emotional, and physical treatments on those diagnosed with cancer or other serious illness.  In her spare time, you can find Melanie trying new vegan recipes, on her yoga mat, or spending time with her family.


About Iowa Sports Foundation

The Iowa Sports Foundation mission is to provide sports, recreation, health and wellness opportunities for Iowans of all abilities.
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