Exercise Can Ease Fatigue of Chemotherapy

If you're diagnosed with cancer, it's normal to have questions, fears, and a feeling of being out of control of your life. Fortunately, there's something you can do. You can start an exercise program.

Chemo effects

Each person responds differently to cancer treatment. Your reaction depends on the particular chemotherapy drug you are given. It also depends on your health, as well as the type and extent of cancer.

Some people are able to continue with their work and daily activities. Most people receiving chemotherapy, though, have fatigue, insomnia, depression, loss of appetite, and nausea. Cancer-related fatigue is unlike the fatigue you feel after a hard day's work. It is an extreme mental and physical tiredness that doesn't get better with rest.

In fact, it has been estimated that 70 to 100 percent of people who receive chemotherapy feel fatigue so extreme that rest doesn't help. The fatigue keeps them from working or managing their households.

Talk to your doctor about strategies to address fatigue. He or she may recommend an exercise program.

Exercise benefits

People undergoing chemotherapy often feel too weak to start a major exercise program. But even light exercise, such as a daily walk around the block, can help. Plus, many stretching and weight-training exercises can be tailored to your capabilities and done while sitting or lying down.

The American Cancer Society says that people receiving chemotherapy who also exercise experience these benefits:

  • Shorter hospital stays

  • Less decline in physical functioning

  • Significantly less fatigue and emotional distress

  • Better sleep

  • Increased self-esteem and confidence

  • Fewer side effects

Designing a program

You can reap the benefits of exercise at home or with a physical therapist or personal trainer.

You can make the program fit your needs by changing any of three factors: frequency, intensity, or time.

It's best to start with low-intensity, short-duration activities three days a week. As your body adjusts and gets stronger, you can gradually work a little harder and a little longer at each session. A typical program might have you do aerobic and strengthening exercise on alternate days. You might start with five- to 10-minute sessions and work up to as much as 40 minutes over 15 weeks.

Strengthening exercises will keep your muscles strong so you can perform daily chores with greater ease. Walking and other aerobic activities will increase your endurance. It may take weeks or months for some people to regain their energy. Once chemotherapy is finished, though, normal cells recover. The side effects, including fatigue, ease.

Exercise can help you take charge of your body. You can take responsibility for getting well and feeling better through regular participation. Being active, rather than passive, in the process of recovery will give you strength, courage, and confidence as your treatment continues.