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Sharp Health News

Exercise after cancer treatment

Aug. 24, 2016

Exercise after cancer treatment

Living with cancer can be frustrating. Fatigue can interfere with some of the most basic, yet meaningful aspects of life, such as maintaining your home, returning to work and staying physically active.

“Cancer is a diagnosis that hits to the heart of a person’s life in many ways,” says Roshni Thomas-George, registered occupational therapist at Sharp Rees-Stealy. She assists patients during and after cancer treatments to help them resume ordinary activity and exercise.

Thomas-George recommends conserving energy for exercise by rearranging your environment and eliminating unnecessary effort. “Energy is like money — you’ve only got so much, so think about what you’re spending it on,” she says.

Rearrange your environment 
  • Keep frequently used items in easily accessible places 
  • Replace existing heavy items with lighter ones; for example, use plastic plates rather than china or glass 
  • Adjust workspaces to eliminate awkward positions — bad posture drains energy 
  • Wear an apron with pockets to carry around cooking utensils or cleaning tools 
  • Consider moving your bed to the first floor to reduce the need to climb stairs
Eliminate unnecessary effort 
  • Sit rather than stand whenever possible — while preparing meals, washing dishes, etc. 
  • Use adaptive equipment to make tasks easier — try a grabber, a shower chair or a hands-free headset for your phone 
  • Use prepared foods when possible 
  • Get a rolling cart to transport things around the house, rather than carry them 
  • See if your grocery store will deliver your groceries, or use store-provided wheelchairs or scooters when you shop

When resuming a fitness routine after cancer treatment, Thomas-George suggests starting with the fundamentals: “Workouts should be based on strengthening and stretching your body.” She cautions that you should always clear activity first with your therapist or doctor.

She recommends yoga and swimming, both of which are low-impact exercises that still challenge the body. If running is your exercise of choice, Thomas-George recommends starting with fast-paced walks on the treadmill or outside. “Wearing compression clothes or socks can help reduce swelling,” she says. “Maintaining compression is especially important when you suffer from edema or lymphedema.”

The aim of exercising is to help you get back to your normal activities and a full range of movement. It takes time to get over any surgery or treatment, which may lead you to feel more tired than usual.

Thomas-George shares a few precautions for those resuming exercise during or after cancer treatment:

  • If you experience extreme fatigue, anemia or a lack of muscle coordination, don’t exercise. 
  • If your immune system is compromised and your white blood cell count is low, avoid public gyms, yoga studios and other public places.
  • If you have neuropathy or tingling in your hands or feet from chemotherapy, you are at higher risk for falls and injuries. Thomas-George suggests working out with a spotter or walking with a friend. 
  • If you are receiving chemotherapy to treat breast cancer that has spread to the bone, you may be at higher risk of breaking a bone. You should lower the intensity and duration of your workout. Talk to your doctor about the exercises you plan to do. 
  • If you’re on chemotherapy or targeted therapy that may cause heart damage, make sure you ask your doctor what type of exercise modifications and intensity, if any, are right for you. 
  • You may want to skip exercising on the day you receive chemotherapy and stick to very low-intensity exercise for 24 to 48 hours afterward. 
“It’s important to listen to your body,” says Thomas-George. “If you feel tired, achy or any pain, then you may need to slow down or stop and contact your specialist or therapist.”

If you have undergone breast cancer surgery and are having pain or difficulty, or are just not sure what exercises are best for you, Sharp Rees-Stealy offers a Recovering from Breast Cancer class for support and professional guidance.

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