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Published on May 25, 2018

woman catching her breath exercising

Physical activity and cancer

It's common to hear people tell others who are living with cancer or another chronic illness to try to rest as much as possible. While this is good advice if being active causes someone pain or difficulty breathing, scientific research suggests that exercise is safe for many people during cancer treatment and can even improve quality of life. This is why Gundersen's Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders and other cancer centers across the country are increasingly encouraging people living with cancer to be as active as possible.

Regular physical activity has been shown to:

  • Improve aerobic fitness and muscle strength, helping a person maintain independence
  • Reduce anxiety or depression
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Improve blood flow to the legs and reduce the risk of blood clots
  • Reduce pain
  • Reduce diarrhea, constipation, nausea and other common side effects of treatment
  • Lessen the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease
  • Increase overall physical functioning
  • Improve self-esteem and mood and lower the risk of anxiety and depression
  • Improve balance, lowering the risk of falls and broken bones

Your cancer care team can help you choose the kinds of exercises that may most benefit you, and make sure they are suitable for your needs and specific diagnosis.

Talking to your provider before starting an exercise program is important, because problems or complications are possible if you exert more effort than what is appropriate for you. For example, people with bone involvement may need to avoid heavy weight bearing exercises, which could increase the risk for fractures.

For specific questions about how physical activity may help you, talk to your provider today: (608) 775-2385.

*Article adapted from The Staywell Company and The American Cancer Society.

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