Many people consider exercise to be an extra burden when they’re fighting fatigue, pain or depression. That’s understandable. Yet research has shown that exercise can help fight tiredness and lessen some of the side effects of cancer treatment.
“Sometimes the things you don’t want to do are the things that can make you feel better,” says Eleanor M. Walker, M.D., radiation oncologist and medical director for the Henry Ford Center for Integrative Medicine.
She recommends exercise for any cancer patient or survivor because getting active can offer several benefits:
- Increased blood flow to the heart.
- Improved fitness, strength, flexibility and endurance.
- Better weight control and body composition.
- Improved mood and energy.
- Improved cognition and immune system functioning.
Still, some people wonder if it’s better to rest while recovering. “I tell patients to rest and exercise,” Dr. Walker says. “Most people can immediately start exercising by walking around the house.”
If you’re feeling uninspired when it comes to working out, a good way to get your body moving is by doing something physical that made you happy in the past, whether that’s dancing, biking, gardening or yoga.
“When you’re happy, you’re triggering endorphins, and you tend to do activities more often,” says Dr. Walker, who enjoys salsa dancing. If you need a partner for dance or exercise, consider your caregiver or a friend who's asked how they can help during your cancer journey.
Start with Snippets
Dr. Walker recommends starting with 15 minutes of exercise a day, for six days each week—you’ll tally up the recommended 90 minutes of weekly cardio exercise.
“Just increase your heart rate and break a little sweat,” Dr. Walker says. “Be patient. You should notice improvements in two or three weeks.”
Looking for the best exercise plan for you? The Exercise and Cancer Integrative Therapy Education (ExCITE) program provides individualized exercise programs for any cancer patient or survivor. Learn more.
Eleanor Walker, M.D., is a radiation oncologist and medical director for Henry Ford Center for Integrative Medicine. She worked with cardiologists to create the ExCITE program. Dr. Walker sees patients at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute in Detroit.