Yin & Yang of Exercising with Cancer

Cancer patients should embrace exercise. Yes, you read that correctly – get up and move! In the big picture, exercise is good for the body. For those with cancer, getting the blood flowing, working your muscles, keeping your mind sharp … it’s all part of the process to beat the disease.


Exercise is one of the most critical cancer treatments. Starting – and maintaining – an exercise program will empower you to improve your well-being and your attitude.


Intensity guidelines for people with cancer are 150 minutes of moderate workouts or 75 minutes of vigorous exercises each week. But if you’re not ready for that level, be as active as you can. One thing you should do: regular stretching with resistance training (weightlifting, resistance bands) at least twice a week. Also, balance exercises should be part of your daily routines.


There are two extremes to exercising with cancer. They can be used as building blocks, or they can be used simultaneously. Depending on your body, on how well you can put your body in motion, the movement will dictate what you do, when you do it, how long you do it.


We’ve all seen the yoga folks, sitting on a mat, eyes closed, palms up, om’ing. And then, the cardio people are pumping their legs, moving their arms, sweating, guttural noises from within as they push forward, harder.


So, which exercise is right for you? Either, both, none of the above? It depends on you (and let’s be honest: at least give yoga a shot; minimal movement is better than none.)


Yoga for cancer patients


One of the primary benefits of yoga is improved flexibility. Your posture will improve as muscles and ligaments become more flexible. Your hips loosen, and by extension, there is less strain on your knees. You’ll also notice less back pain as your spine adjusts. Improved flexibility will help your muscles become stronger, which protects against arthritis and back pain.


A plus for yoga is that breathing techniques and exercises can be done almost anywhere. Also, studies show regular yoga practice yields better sleep. Yoga is useful for treating cancer-related fatigue; 22% to 37% of cancer patients showed improved sleep quality as yoga relieved their fatigue. (1)


Yoga can be adapted based on the patient’s needs and is affordable and noninvasive. However, be aware of physical limitations. If you’re new to yoga, start with a licensed instructor. Their insight will help you learn proper techniques and how to accommodate your body. Once comfortable with the ins and outs, yoga can be done in your home.


Cardio for cancer patients


You can get your heart racing – and the blood pumping! – with cardio exercises. In turn, cardio increases metabolism and decreases body fat.


There are easy cardio exercises for cancer patients, including hiking, running, swimming, and walking. None of these exercises require special equipment (other than a comfy pair of shoes).


More extreme examples of cardio exercises for cancer patients are elliptical (designed to minimize the impact on the knees and hips), stair climber, jumping rope, kettlebells, and rowing.


If you want to increase your cardio, consider a sports league – soccer, baseball, softball, etc. Leagues and teams are a great way to stay active and remain social.


Regardless, choose your cardio exercises (and intensity) carefully. Talk with your doctor about the level of activity for your ability level. You don’t want to overexert. Also, consider a professional trainer or physical therapist. They can monitor cardio and create a plan that fits your ability level.





(1) Influence of Yoga on Cancer-Related Fatigue and on Mediational Relationships Between Changes in Sleep and Cancer-Related Fatigue: A Nationwide, Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial of Yoga in Cancer Survivors.

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