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Published on June 15, 2014

pink weights with breast cancer ribbon

Staying Fit During Cancer Treatment

Exercise is important even while undergoing cancer treatment. It helps to maintain weight, improve mood, boost energy and promote better sleep; it is also enjoyable. However, many times I see patients who quit their exercise routine during cancer treatment.

While it is important to follow your physician’s orders for medication, it is equally important to follow an exercise routine while undergoing cancer treatments. Talk with your doctor about how you can maintain an exercise routine during cancer treatment. A well-designed exercise program should include aerobic, strength and flexibility training.

Research suggests the benefits of exercise for chemotherapy patients. A journal article in Cancer, published in May 1999 by F. Dimeo and associates, reported results of physician activity interventions in chemotherapy patients.

  • The study consisted of 27 patients who rode a stationary bike for 30 minutes each day while they were hospitalized.
  • The researchers noted that the patients had less anxiety, a significant decrease in fatigue complaints, fewer fears and less psychological distress.

Exercise Tips

  • Your activity level may change while undergoing treatment; it will depend on your overall fitness before a cancer diagnosis.
  • Exercise can be modified to include rest breaks and decreases in duration and intensity.
  • If exercise has been part of your regular routine, keeping that routine can help make you feel as if your life is still “normal.”
  • For patients having a surgical procedure or receiving radiation therapy as part of treatment, you may need to modify your routine. Describe your exercise routine to your doctor, who may recommend modifications.

For Chemotherapy Patients

  • You might experience some of the common side effects, including fatigue and nausea.
  • Exercising while tired may be atypical, but research has shown that exercising has a role in improving the physical and emotional well-being of patients.
  • Some patients may experience a reduced number of complications that may arise from treatment, along with an improved immune function.
  • Use caution: Some chemotherapy side effects may increase your risk of heart disease, including weakening of the heart muscles and rhythm disturbances.
  • Fortunately, heart disease associated with chemotherapy is rare and not all chemotherapy carries potential side effects of heart damage.

What exercises should I do?

  • Do as much as you can each day.
  • Take a walk every day.
  • If you are confined to bed, do a range of motion exercises as instructed by your doctor or physical therapist.

Call your doctor if you

  • Get weaker, start losing your balance or fall
  • Have new pain or the pain gets worse
  • Have headaches, feel dizzy or have blurred vision


Your health care provider or their team is an excellent resource. Avera provides online resources for patients and families. Cancer may steal your hair, energy and immunity. We won’t let it steal your spirit. Learn how Avera does cancer care differently. The Avera Cancer Institute is made up of six major locations and 40 clinics to ensure your treatment is never far away.

Other online resources include the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.

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