Engaging in Physical Activity During Chemotherapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Benefits, Recommendations, and Precautions

Engaging in Physical Activity During Chemotherapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Benefits, Recommendations, and Precautions


The question of whether one can exercise while undergoing chemotherapy is a critical aspect of cancer care. Physical activity has been recognized as a beneficial intervention to improve muscle strength and enhance the overall quality of life for cancer patients before, during, and after chemotherapy. This comprehensive guide explores the myriad benefits of exercise, research findings supporting its positive impact on recovery, and general recommendations for cancer survivors. Additionally, it delves into the role of physiotherapy in cancer patients, highlighting its significance in pre and post-operative rehabilitation. The guide also details the benefits of physical activities during cancer treatment and provides specific recommendations for building a unique exercise plan. Furthermore, it addresses contraindications to physiotherapy and emphasizes the importance of precautions in exercise plans tailored to individual health conditions.

Benefits of Exercise During Chemotherapy:

Research has consistently demonstrated the positive impact of exercise on the well-being of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Regular physical activity not only contributes to the improvement of muscle strength but also plays a crucial role in various aspects of recovery and disease management.

Recovery and Disease Recurrence:

Research from the American Cancer Society (A.C.S) indicates that exercise is instrumental in the recovery process and may contribute to preventing the recurrence of the disease. Incorporating physical activity into the patient’s routine has been shown to have a positive impact on overall health during and after chemotherapy.

Managing Side Effects:

Chemotherapy often comes with various side effects that can significantly impact a patient’s daily life. Physical activity has been proven to help patients cope with these side effects, contributing to a better quality of life. Maintaining an active lifestyle prevents excessive resting or sitting, which can lead to body function loss, muscle weakness, and restricted joint function (ROM).

General Recommendations for Cancer Survivors:

For cancer survivors, incorporating physical activity into their routine is vital for overall well-being. Here are some general recommendations:

Avoid Inactivity:

Returning to Activities of Daily Living (ADL) as soon as possible is crucial. Avoiding prolonged inactivity helps prevent the loss of body function and maintains muscle strength.

Gradual Increase in Activity:

Starting slowly and gradually increasing the intensity of physical activities over time is essential. This approach helps prevent injuries and allows the body to adapt to increased levels of activity.

Incorporate Stretching Exercises:

Stretching exercises should be included in the routine at least two days a week. Regular stretching improves flexibility and posture, addressing issues that may arise from inactivity during cancer treatments.

Aim for Moderate Activity:

Building up to 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity each week is recommended. This level of physical activity has been shown to have positive effects on physical and mental health.

Integrate into Daily Routine:

Integrating physical activities into daily routines and striving for independence as much as possible contributes to an active and healthy lifestyle.

Consult a Physical Therapist:

Consulting a physio-therapist is crucial for personalized recommendations and precautions, especially in cases where specific health conditions or treatment side effects need to be considered.

Physiotherapy in Cancer Patients:

Physiotherapy, involving physical methods such as exercise, massage, and electrotherapy, plays a crucial role in the treatment of cancer patients. It addresses various aspects of care, ranging from reducing cancer-related problems like fatigue and weakness to aiding in pre and post-operative rehabilitation.

Reducing Cancer-Related Problems:

Physical activity, as part of physiotherapy, has been shown to reduce and prevent many cancer-related problems, including fatigue, weakness, and issues related to sleep, appetite, and mood.

Pre and Post-Operative Rehabilitation:

Physiotherapy plays an essential role in pre and post-operative rehabilitation. It helps patients regain strength, movement, and function, contributing to an overall improvement in the recovery process.

Preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders:

Physiotherapy treatment and physical activity have been proven to reduce the incidence of post-cancer musculoskeletal disorders. This aspect is particularly important for long-term well-being and quality of life.

Exercise as Part of Cancer Treatment:

The growing body of research highlights exercise as a crucial component of cancer treatment plans. Regular exercise has been shown to significantly improve both physical and mental health during every phase of cancer treatment.

Benefits of Physical Activities:

Engaging in physical activities during cancer treatment offers a multitude of benefits, including:

  • Reducing treatment-related fatigue.
  • Potentially lowering anxiety and depression levels.
  • Expediting post-operative recovery.
  • Improving overall health status.
  • Regaining strength, movement, and function.
  • Enhancing physical functioning and mobility.
  • Improving quality of life.
  • Maintaining or improving muscle strength.
  • Addressing posture issues.
  • Reducing pain.
  • Improving balance, coordination, and decreasing the risk of falls.
  • Managing edema.
  • Promoting physical independence.
  • Enhancing respiratory and cardiovascular fitness.
  • Improving sleep.
  • Reducing the risk of developing other co-existing conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
  • Tailoring Exercise Plans:

The design of an exercise plan for individuals undergoing cancer treatment is a nuanced process. Several factors influence the uniqueness of each plan, including:

  • Type of cancer.
  • Treatment being used.
  • Side effects experienced by the patient.
  • Level of fitness.
  • Any other health problems.
  • Building an Exercise Plan:

Creating an exercise plan that caters to the specific needs of an individual requires careful consideration of various factors. The plan should be tailored to the type of cancer, ongoing treatment, experienced side effects, individual fitness level, and any other existing health conditions.

Stretching Exercises:

Regular stretching is emphasized in the exercise plan, as it can improve flexibility and posture. Stretching helps increase the flow of oxygen and blood to the muscles, aiding in cell repair. For instance, radiation therapy may limit range of motion, and regular stretching during and after treatment can improve mobility and flexibility.

Balance Exercises:

Loss of balance can be a side effect of cancer treatment. Incorporating balance exercises into the plan helps prevent the risk of falls and related injuries.

Aerobic Exercises:

Aerobic exercises, such as walking, are included to strengthen the heart and lungs. These activities contribute to reduced fatigue during and after treatment.

Strength Training:

Muscle loss often occurs during periods of inactivity associated with cancer treatment. Therefore, strength training or resistance training is recommended to maintain and build strong muscles. Increased muscle mass can improve balance, reduce fatigue, and make daily living activities easier. Additionally, it can counteract the osteoporosis that some cancer treatments may cause.

Precautionary Rehabilitation:

Taking precautions while exercising is crucial, especially when experiencing side effects from cancer or its treatment. Adapting the exercise plan based on specific side effects is essential for safe and effective workouts. Precautions may include adjusting the intensity and duration of exercises.

Precautions and Contraindications:

While exercise is generally beneficial for cancer patients, there are instances where precautions and contraindications must be considered. Consulting with healthcare professionals, particularly physiotherapists or exercise specialists, is crucial to ensure a safe and effective exercise plan.


Certain conditions may contraindicate physiotherapy and exercise. These include:

  • Fever.
  • Recent myocardial infarction (heart attack).
  • Pulmonary issues like pneumothorax or pulmonary embolism.
  • Hypophysis or Haemorrhage.
  • Severe osteoporosis.
  • Severe pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Hemodynamic instability.
  • Rib or vertebral concerns.
  • Consultation with Professionals:

Physiotherapists and exercise specialists play a crucial role in designing a unique exercise plan tailored to individual circumstances. They consider the type of cancer, ongoing treatment, experienced side effects, level of fitness, and any other existing health problems.

Safe Exercise Practices:

When planning a workout during cancer treatment, certain practices ensure safety and effectiveness. It is imperative to approach exercise with caution and take necessary measures to avoid complications.

  • Start Slowly:

Even if a person was physically active before cancer treatment, it is essential to build up the activity level slowly. This gradual approach helps avoid injuries and allows the body to adapt to increased physical activity levels.

  • Choose a Safe Environment:

If cancer treatment has weakened the immune system, it is advisable to avoid large gyms or group exercises where germs can spread easily. Working out at home or in outdoor environments, weather permitting, can reduce the risk of infections.

  • Hydration and Nutrition:

Staying hydrated and maintaining a nutritious diet are crucial during cancer treatment. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is essential to avoid dehydration, and consuming protein-rich foods aids in faster recovery. Consultation with an onco-dietician may provide valuable insights into nutritional needs.

  • Listen to Your Body:

Listening to the body is paramount. Avoid overexertion during periods of illness, discomfort, severe weakness, or breathing difficulties. Adjusting the intensity and duration of exercises based on energy levels ensures a safer and more sustainable approach to physical activity.


In conclusion, engaging in physical activity during chemotherapy is not only permissible but highly encouraged. The numerous benefits, ranging from improved muscle strength to enhanced overall well-being, make exercise a valuable component of cancer care. Research consistently supports the positive impact of exercise on recovery, disease recurrence, and the management of treatment-related side effects. Physiotherapy plays a pivotal role in addressing various aspects of cancer care, including reducing cancer-related problems and aiding in pre and post-operative rehabilitation.

Building a personalized exercise plan is essential, considering factors such as the type of cancer, ongoing treatment, side effects, fitness level, and overall health. However, precautions and contraindications must be taken into account, and consultation with healthcare professionals, particularly physiotherapists and exercise specialists, is imperative.

Incorporating safe exercise practices, such as starting slowly, choosing a suitable environment, staying hydrated, and listening to the body, ensures that physical activity contributes positively to the overall cancer treatment journey. By embracing exercise as a fundamental component of care, individuals undergoing chemotherapy can enhance their physical and mental well-being, ultimately improving their quality of life.

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