Aerobic exercise (a.k.a. “cardio”) has many proven benefits for all humans. Cardio relates to cardiac, meaning it’s for the heart! For cancer thrivers, aerobic exercise can have many excellent benefits (including improved survival rates and decreased rates of recurrence!) and should be recommended for all oncology patients. Read on to learn about the benefits and general recommendations for aerobic exercise during cancer treatments.
Benefits of Aerobic Exercise
- Increase your sensitivity to treatment = better tumor cell destruction!
- Prevent muscle loss and build strength (including your heart muscles)
- Reduce treatment-related side effects
- Reduce depression and anxiety
- Improve your sleep
- Reduce your recurrence and mortality risk significantly (up to 50% for some)
- Improve your quality of life
Psstttt… if you’re not convinced already, I’m not sure what will get you on board this point!
Types of Aerobic Exercise
- Riding your bike
- Interval Training
*If running was part of your pre-treatment routine, it may be ok to continue, BUT as some treatments can put you at risk of cardiac dysfunction, it may be best to stick with more gentle cardio until your heart gets stronger. Always check with your doctor or physical therapist!
**Avoid swimming in the ocean or public pools if you are neutropenic, have recently had surgery, or have open wounds/blisters from radiation therapy due to increased risk of infection!
Aerobic Exercise Guidelines
We’ll use the FITT principle for aerobic exercise guidelines:
- Frequency: 3-5 days per week
- Intensity: RPE 2-3 – keep it light for cardioPROTECTIVE benefits!
- Time: 10-60 minute sessions for total of 150 minutes per week
- Type: Choose your favorite from those listed above!
What is RPE, you ask? RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion, is a measure of how hard you feel you’re working. Use this Modified Borg Scale to guide your intensity during your workouts!
|10||VERY, VERY HARD|
- Understand if the chemotherapeutic agents you received can cause cardiotoxicity. If so, be sure to request a baseline cardiac workup. Know that low-intensity exercise may have a cardioprotective effect during treatment!
- Monitor your vital signs!
- Use your fitness tracker to monitor your heart rate OR here’s a video on how to check your heart rate manually!
- Report any significant or unusual shortness of breath to your physician.
- Watch for swelling that may be early signs of lymphedema or cardiac dysfunction.
- Monitor lab values! Generally, if your lab values fall in the following ranges, you should check with your provider before exercising:
- Neutrophils (ANC) <1.5 x 10^9/L
- Platelets < 20,000 cells/uL
- Hemoglobin < 8g/dL (anemia)
- Be cautious if you know you have any of the following:
- Bone or lung metastasis
- Abnormal sensation or dizziness/imbalance which may increase your fall risk
Now you know some general guidelines for aerobic exercise for cancer patients! By the way, these general guidelines apply to those without cancer as well! Always seek medical advice before starting a new exercise program and remember: All information shared on this page is for educational purposes only. If you are thinking of starting an exercise program, consult with your physical therapist or physician to determine what is right for you!