When someone says “cancer treatment”, I’ll bet you staying active isn’t one of the things that comes to mind. But what I’ve found through my own personal cancer journey is that staying active can actually help you get through treatment. Yes, it can be difficult, but it’s worth it. I’ve experience severe Chemo Brain, and I’ve notice the more active I am, the clearer I can think. I just….feel better!
I’m not talking about going out and weightlifting or going for a run, or taking on a triathlon during treatment. If you’re already doing those things, don’t stop! Your body will be able to bounce back quicker after treatment. And I wouldn’t recommend any kind of physical activity for an extraordinary length of time – just enough to get your heart rate slightly up and get the blood pumping through your body. As always, drink LOTS of water, but don’t over hydrate, either. That can also make you sick (yes, I have done this too).
If you’re not doing any kind of physical activity right now, gentle exercise, and I do mean gentle, will help you stay active, get you some fresh air, and hopefully help you feel better! You never know – you may get so into an activity that for a moment, even if it’s just a moment, you forget you’re a cancer patient. 😊
Gentle & Easy Ways to Stay Active During Cancer Treatment
This is an easy activity that everyone can do during treatment. I was sick while I was going through my Red Devil Chemo, and I was still able to get out and walk around. I’m not saying go for a 5K (which you can do if you’re feeling better!), but just getting out around your neighborhood, walking through the grocery store, etc. can really be beneficial. Spring is upon us (well, most of us this year)…get out and get some fresh air, if only for a short period of time.
This activity is geared toward, shall we say, more seasoned adults. But it’s a great activity to keep you active when you don’t feel like you have a ton of energy. The water weights are light, but will still help you maintain some kind of muscle mass. This is important when you go through chemo that eats away at your muscles (like I did). Plus, inside the pool, the effects of gravity are lessened, which feels amazing when you’re exhausted. This leads me to…
Yes, swimming. I’m not talking about doing laps like Michael Phelps. I simply mean that getting into the pool and gently swimming some laps, playing with kids or grand kids, and even gently treading water can do wonders for a person. While I was going through chemo, my family and I went to a water park. I swam, tread water, walked (albeit, slowly) up the staircases to get to the water slides. I didn’t know if I’d have the energy to do it, but once I was in the water (I love the water!) I completely forgot I was a cancer patient. I had a blast.
Don’t get all crazy and start trudging your way up hill. However, if you have a good, flat-ish bike path you can get to, biking can be a very easy and gentle workout. Again, the goal isn’t to make your heart try to escape your chest. You just want to get your blood flowing enough to make you feel better and ease some of your chemo brain. Make sure you take water and a protein snack with you.
For Those Who Are Already Feeling Better…
Hiking / Backpacking
Don’t just up and go on a 10 mile hike! Heaven’s to Betsy, you might end up being carried out. I’ve recently started backpacking and I’ve notice I have some trouble breathing, so I have to take it at a slower pace. Chemo doesn’t just destroy white blood cells, it destroys your red ones, too. Your red ones carry oxygen. Without red blood cells, your body, tissues, and organs cannot get enough oxygen. This can be a problem when you’re doing an activity where you’re required to BREATHE!
But if you’re going through radiation, this might be a good one for you. I notice I could breathe much better during radiation, and although I was tired, I was still able to have enough energy to get around fairly easily. Again, just use your best judgement. Hiking may be good for you, but you might not want to backpack if you’re fresh out of surgery (absolutely NOT a good idea), or having severe breathing problems as a result of chemo.
Fun and full of energy, Zumba will definitely get your heart rate up! Again, use good judgement – if you notice you’re having trouble catching your breath, just excuse yourself to the side. Get some water, breathe deeply, and calm your heart rate. When you’re ready, get out there and shake it!
Yes, I actually worked up quite a sweat swing dancing. I do not recommend this if you’re feeling nauseous – it isn’t called “swing” for no reason. I did this during my Carbo/Taxol treatments, and only after I gave myself three days to get over the affects. It was a lot of fun, and it really gave my legs a great workout!
This one can be interesting to navigate. Yoga uses your own body weight and has very gentle movements. Make sure you’re listening to your body. When I took a yoga class through my cancer center, I was trying very hard to keep as much weight as possible off my arms. I had been through surgery weeks prior, but my tissue expanders still bothered me. The yoga instructor kept telling me to get all the weight off my legs by using my arms, but I gently told her I couldn’t use my arms due to surgery. Don’t let the instructors force you into positions you’re not comfortable with.
Overall, yoga is great because you can change how hard you work based on how low you go into some of the movements. In other words, if someone is really squatting down into their Warrior Pose, you don’t have to, and when you start feeling better, you can start getting lower. I also liked yoga because of it’s focus on breathing, which, when you don’t have a lot of red blood cells from chemo, is a very good thing!
That’s all I have for you! Are there other gentle and easy exercises you’d recommend?
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