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By Ackerman Cancer Center

02/07/2017

Building an Exercise Routine after Cancer Treatment

Cancer patients often experience fatigue during and after treatment. Such fatigue is not only physically limiting; it can also affect the psychological, emotional, and economic wellbeing of an individual.

If you experience fatigue following cancer treatment, it may be difficult to find the motivation to exercise - but many experts believe regular physical activity might be the best medicine for combating post-treatment fatigue. There is evidence that exercise plays a role in lessening the risk of cancer recurrence, aids in weight loss and weight maintenance, reduces the risk of chronic health conditions, and improves mood. 

Traditionally, cancer patients were advised to stick with gentle, low-intensity activities like yoga and walking during the post-treatment phase. However, a recent Australian study found that tougher workouts might actually be more beneficial.  

When 52 bowel cancer survivors participated in an Australian study that compared high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with traditional exercises such as swimming or walking, the strenuous workouts appeared to be more successful in reducing fatigue.  

Throughout the eight-week study, participants in the HIIT group engaged in 4 minutes of high-intensity exercise followed by 3 minutes of low-intensity activity three times a week. At the end of the study, those who prescribed to the HIIT routine reported more energy and less fatigue than patients who participated in a less intense routine.  

Regardless of type or intensity, one thing is clear – exercise delivers a wide array of health benefits for all individuals. To maximize results, consider the following suggestions:

  • Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week. Build up gradually, if necessary
  • Vary routines and exercise types to prevent boredom and target different muscles
  • Include stretching exercises such as yoga or tai chi to improve flexibility and balance
  • Incorporate aerobic activities, like brisk walking or biking, to promote heart health
  • Practice resistance training exercises such as planks, squats, weight lifting, or exercise band routines to build muscle and improve strength

Some cancer survivors may want to work with a physical therapist or exercise physiologist to improve safety and results. Ask your doctor about the best way to get started with a healthier, more active lifestyle. 

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