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Exercise for Cancer Recovery: Strengthening the Body & Clearing the Mind

December 08, 2018 3 min read

by our guest blogger Melanie Bowen


Patients recovering from cancer often benefit both physically and mentally from exercise. Although exercise is never a cure in itself, it can make you feel less stressed and more energetic, and it can help you sleep better at night. Even so, only exercise as intensely as you feel up to doing. Most important, your doctor must approve your exercise program before you begin.

Light Exercise

If you’re currently undergoing an aggressive course of cancer treatment – chemotherapy, for instance – exercise lightly. Exercising lightly means you don’t sweat and you maintain your normal breathing patterns. It is important to learn to maximize every breath, training the lungs to improve respiratory function. Breathing exercises are one form of light exercise. They help ensure that the functions of your respiratory system are in the best possible working order, especially if you’ve undergone treatment for pleural mesothelioma or other lung-related cancers.

Breathing exercises are simple and easy to learn, too. Generally speaking, they involve a series of slow, deep, controlled breaths, breaths made with full awareness. To help further strengthen the lungs, the use of the O2 trainer should be also taken into consideration. Depending on your respiratory fitness, the O2 trainer is adjustable and able to accommodate various lung fitness levels. Whether sitting, laying down, or standing, it can still be utilized as a tool to take control of your breathing and train yourself for better lung endurance. Regardless, if you are unable to take on more strenuous activities, understand that it is imperative that you try to remain as flexible as possible. By doing so, you are preparing the body for higher levels of activity.

Moderate Exercise

Once you’ve undergone surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or another intensive form of treatment, and you’re just beginning to regain your strength and resume everyday activities, you should be ready for moderate exercise. Moderate exercise entails sweating modestly after you’ve been exercising for ten minutes straight. It also involves breathing faster than normal, yet not the sensation of being out of breath.

An ideal form of moderate exercise is In fact, a number of yoga routines have been developed specifically for patients recovering from cancer. And a 2011 University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center study concluded that yoga has the power to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol – thus granting practitioners feelings of inner peace – while at the same time improving the functioning of the body overall.

Yoga involves two inextricable components. One is physical movement: an array of stretches, postures, and positions, some of which are simple to perform and some of which are highly complex. The other aspect to yoga, equally beneficial during cancer recovery, is spiritual awakening. Yogis learn to relax, to meditate, and to balance their inner selves.

Advanced Exercise

When, happily, you’ve made it to the later stages of recovery, it may be time for heavy exercise – exercise that leads to faster rates of breathing and even more sweat. What’s more, rigorous exercise helps your body fight any lingering health issues related to your treatment, including swelling, fatigue, and pain. It also strengthens the immune system.

Consider weight training if you want advanced exercise. This level of activity is only recommend for those who are in the later stages of recovery and wish to fully gain back their strength. Often, muscle mass is loss during traditional chemo and radiation therapies. Weight lifting may not seem as advanced as other activities, but nothing can match it for building muscle strength.

Weight training helps you build cardiovascular fitness. Weight workouts help you feel energized and alert. Ask your doctor or physical therapist to devise a workout, and remember to supplement resistance training with aerobic activity.

Exercise is important for everyone, of course, but especially for people recovering from cancer. If your body is in peak condition, the rate and effectiveness of your recovery are more likely to be optimal. In addition, exercise builds self-esteem as well as muscle tissue – and you certainly deserve to feel as good about yourself as possible.