Tutorial on cancer and exercise.

We are living in a world where more experience cancer through their life. Statically 1 out of every 3 person will develop cancer.  Furthermore, as the treatment becomes better and more advanced more people survive cancer treatment. Cancer and exercise are connected. Exercise has proven to be an important before, under and after cancer treatment. Up to 30 % of cancer survivors have reported to experience a loss of energy for years after treatment. This loss in physical fitness is a significant contributor to decreased qualify of life in cancer patients.

Another important point is that lowering you physical endurance can create a self-perpetuating condition. Diminished activity leads to fatigability and vice versa. This mechanism could explain the persistence of this problem for some patients even years after the treatment. An aerobic training program has the potential to break this vicious cycle.


The impact of cancer

In 2014, Gralla et al 2014 did a study where they asked people with an advanced cancer about their main concerns. What they found can be summarized into these four points.



Advantages with exercising for people affected by cancer

Science shows that exercising is super important before, under and after cancer treatment. There are so many mental and physical benefits with exercising. Here are some of them, all backed by science.

cancer and exercise

We think that the psychological aspect of exercise is as interesting as the physiological. An exercise program can motivate, give a feeling of safety, improve physical and emotional control, improve quality of life and more.

Many people with cancer sometimes feel like they want to give up. Especially for those with terminal cancer. They know that their time is short. Many terminal patients feel that the doctor has already given up on them. Maybe they even feel that close friends, and family has given up on them. By exercising some of these patients feel that they are still worth something! Exercise has actually proven to reduce anxiety on terminal lung cancer patients (Quist M et al, 2015).


Other benefits?

Does more benefits than the ones we described in the infographic exist? Of course!
These parameters that we have described are all from a big meta analysis study done by Speck et al, in 2010. For anyone to be able to generalize the effect that exercise has on cancer, it’s very important to have a lot of high quality data! And a lot of studies done on different cancer groups. As of today, most cancer studies are done on breast cancer patients.  If something works for breast cancer patients, we are not guaranteed that it also works for lymphoma cancer patients, or prostate cancer.

An example would be. Did you know that exercise is a life prolonging for breast and prostate cancer patients. Those who exercise have an lower risk of a cancer relapse. But even though this is proven for breast and prostate cancer, we can’t generalize these finding and say that this is how it is for every cancer type.


The science of exercising.

Have you been advised by your doctor, family, or other health professional to rest and do less?  Well, these well meaning recommendations might not be well for you, and cause unwanted results. Inactivity makes you lose muscle mass, so prolonged rest can produce further loss of energy and performance. But then again to much activity and to little rest can do exactly the same.



If you have cancer, then your body is under a lot of strain. Before, under and after cancer treatment your body has an augmented need for rest, compared to an average person. And after exercising your body will need a longer rest period than an average person. Do you remember how much rest your body needed to recover from exercise before you got cancer? Your body will probably need an even longer time to recover now. Sufficient restitution is crucial if you want to reap the benefits of exercising. If the rest is inadequate your performance will worsen over time. So if you are exercising regularly and start experiencing a drop in performance ask yourself if your body is getting enough rest.

cancer and exercise



General advice

One of the most important thing you do as a cancer patient is to avoid inactivity.

The second advice is to follow your country’s health recommendations for cancer. If you are an american, the recommendations are 150 minutes of moderate to activity per week, and 75 minutes of intense activity.

You can divide it to 30 minutes of brisk walking 5 times a week!

Combined with 20 minutes of an interval pattern activity, 3 times a week. An interval activity could also be walking as fast as you can for 2-3 minutes, and then reducing the speed for a minute. Repeat this until you have walked 20 minutes.

If you want to start an exercise program, then remember to consider your:

  • Earlier activity level
  • Other medical conditions and challenges that you might have.
  • Acute and lasting problems of the treatment



Our exercise programs!

We from Exeromed are experts on medical exercise programs for those with cancer and lymphedema.
If you are interested in an exercise plan to improve various aspects of your life, feel free to look at our cancer specific programs.
If you are especially interested in building your strength, then check out this comprehensive program here for only 87$.
Yoga has also shown to be quite favorable for cancer patients. See our yoga exercise plan now for only 76$.

We are currenly having a special offer for our popular cancer fatigue program for only 9$! Check it out here!


Breast cancer and exercise

Since breast cancer and exercise is such a big topic, so we will make an separate post about it.

If you want to be one of the first to read it feel free to subscribe. We will send you a mail when we post it!



Cancer and exercise under and after chemotherapy


Easy fatigability and reduced endurance are severe problems of patients in the recovery phase immediately after high dose chemotherapy. This impairment of physical performance can cause severe limitations in normal daily activities. Such as walking, housekeeping or waling stairs. Have you been advised by your doctor, family, or other health professional to rest and do less?  Well, these well meaning recommendations might not be well for you, and cause unwanted results. Inactivity makes you lose muscle mass, so prolonged rest can produce further loss of energy and performance.

Underneath will see another diagram of a study. Where they tested the physical aerobic shape of cancer patients under chemotherapy, or when they just finished their cancer treatment. They where divided into two groups. One group that exercised 3-5 times a week and, another that did not exercise. 7 weeks later they did an follow up test.



The first thing they found out was that both exercise groups where in much better shape that the test group, that did not exercise. What we also can see is that the test group that underwent chemotherapy was  in a worse physical shape than when they stared chemotherapy. While the exercise group that received chemotherapy managed to improve their form despite of how though chemotherapy can be. Other studies on different cancer groups have shown similar results! Like the body and cancer intervention on lung cancer, from 2014.

Now, lets say you have to do 3-4 chemo cycles. Think about what that could potentially do to to your shape and health. And the difference exercising could make.


Chemotherapy, exercise and fatiguecancer_study1

The photo of the study by FC Dimeo et al. shown the progression the participants had throughout the study. All of the participants did a test on the day they left the hospital, and 7 weeks later. The training group trained a little 5 times a week under these 7 weeks, following an interval training pattern. While none of the persons in the control group  exercised.  The training group had an greater progress than the control group by how fast they could walk/run. By the interviews 7 weeks after discharge none of the participants in the training group reported feeling fatigued. But 4 persons in the control group, which in this case is 25 %, reported feeling fatigue and had limitations in daily activities. The authors repeatedly observed that patients gained self-confidence and improved their often depressed mood as the training program led them to higher levels of physical independence.

It has also been reported that more than 80% of cancer patients experience significant fatigue during hormone therapy.

If you want to learn more about cancer and fatigue, check out our post,
What is cancer related fatigue and how to deal with it?

Do you want to find out if you might have fatigue?

Take our test now.



Strength exercise and cancer

Strength exercising under chemotherapy has also proven to be very beneficial for some types of cancer patients. Breast cancer patients engaged in resistance training completed a higher relative dose intensity of chemotherapy compared with the control group. The current literature allows for conclusion as to a large effect on upper and lower body strength in post treatment interventions, and a moderate effect of upper and lower strength under treatment. Strength exercising for upper body has not created any adverse effects, like lymphedema. Not even when the contestants where lifting as heavy as they possibly could in a 1 repetition max test.


Cancer and exercise under and after Radiation therapy and hormone treatment

Many studies shows the effectiveness of exercise during and after radiotherapy. Still many of those studies are on breast cancer patients and, it might not be generalized to every  cancer type. Still, dozens studies shows that exercising under radiation in safe, and none exercise-related adverse events where reported. Exercise under radiotherapy has shown benefits as increased aerobic capacity and muscular strength. It has also shown less fatigue and anxiety.

A quite new study evaluated strength training for men with prostate cancer, under hormonal therapy. This study showed that the men had effect of the strength exercises, but not as much as normal individuals. Testosterone deprivation is highly effective for controlling prostate cancer growth, but it causes other unwanted results. Like increased fat mass, loss of muscle and bone, cardiovascular disease, increased incidence of metabolic syndrome, and sudden death. Exercise has been demonstrated to be a very effective medicine for counteracting all of these treatment toxicities as well as improving mental health and quality of life, as well as safe and well tolerated by cancer patients.

Resources with pinpointed information about tips for you cancer type

The national comprehensive cancer network  has created something the call patient and caregiver resources. There you can find specific information about different cancer types like, leukemia, kindey cancer, lung cancer, melanoma and more. If you would like to search for even more specific information, they have a good and orderly page.
Visit NCCN’s guidelines by clicking here. 

Another great recourse out there on cancer and exercise is the ACSM guidelines! American college of sports medicine created a round-table on exercise guidelines for cancer survivors. They have some quite easy to read tables that are worth taking a look at. It can be quite educational.
Read ACSM – Roundtable on exercise guidelines for cancer survivors here. 



Red flags for cancer and exercise- When should a cancer patient refrain form exercise.

So you probably get it by now. Exercise is important and good for so to say, every person that have or has had any kind of cancer. Cancer and exercise fits perfectly together! Now, lets talk about times when you really should limit or even refrain from exercise. These are general rules. Note that anemia is not a contradiction to exercise.




Cancer and exercise, absolute precautions.

The precaution that you should always follow is the one about fewer. If you have fever and have/ just had cancer. Then you should refrain from exercise, period.

Inside your blood, and blood vessels you can find a substance called Thrombocytes. It’s function it to stop any kind of bleeding that occurs. A little cut can become quite troublesome if you have to little Thromocytes in your blood.


Bone metastasis

Bone metastasis is an relative precaution. Bone metastasis might be very painful and hinder exercise in that way. If you have bone metastasis, then you have a higher risk of fracture. If you have a bone metastasis in your column, then it’s advisable to  be careful with exercises or activities that causes your back to rotate. Supervised core exercises for those with column metastasis have shown some great effects. Like less probability for a fracture. If you have bone metastasis and want to exercise, make sure you start of doing it supervised and instructed by a health profession with expertise in the field.  If you have bone metastasis in your left leg, then you should be careful while doing exercises with that left leg. This also means that you can do really heavy strength and condition exercises for your right leg, or for your upper body. 

Decreased immune function

Under and after cancer treatment it is normal to experience a temporary decreased immune function. If your immune function is to low, training can potentially decrease it even more and expose you to environments with higher contamination risks. Under and right after cancer treatment you should be extra careful if you exercise at your local training center or gym. Training centers and gyms are usually a place with a lot of bacteria’s. Its a place where you could easily get infected. Don’t mix cancer and exercise with bad hygiene. Its such a bad cocktail!


Lymphedema and exercise

In some cases it’s normal to see a bit of lymphedema exacerbation under or after exercise. Its commonly seen when people start with weight exercises for lymphedema. It’s important to monitor it, and see that it returns to normal after a given time. We have written a in depth post about lymphedema and exercise. If you want to learn more about that feel free to check it out here.


Are you still here?

Wow, you’re really interested in cancer and exercise. If you found this knowledge useful, feel free to share the knowledge with others.
Do you have any questions, or do you want more information about a topic? If you do, feel free to contact us, or comment below!




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