Cancer Related Fatigue – How Exercise Can HelpMarch 30, 2018
Nancy Campbell, MS
Exercise Physiologist, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Fatigue is one of the most common side effects that you may experience as a cancer survivor. The fatigue can precede your diagnosis, or start when treatments begin.
It can become chronic, meaning that it can linger. Many survivors are surprised to learn that being physically active can help decrease the fatigue. Over the past decade there has been a significant increase in research focused on how beneficial exercise can be. Being active can help build lean muscle mass and reduce side effects of treatment like deconditioning, which may cause fatigue during and after treatment. Physical activity can also reduce anxiety and depression, which can contribute to tiredness.
A common reaction to fatigue might be to pull back and rest, and for caretakers to be very protective and try to take over. Encouraging survivors to be more active, such as offering to go for a 10-minute walk together, can make some of the most significant positive impacts. Ironically, too much rest and too little activity actually promotes fatigue.
One of the single most important things to do when struggling with cancer related fatigue is to create a plan to remain active throughout the cancer journey. Below are some other tips to help get started or stay motivated:
Remember, a little bit of something is better than nothing – even small steps can help. Physical activity offers a range of benefits for cancer patients. It can help lower stress, strengthen muscle mass, elevate mood, improve sleep patterns and more. If you’re not feeling well enough to exercise, stepping out the door to take a short walk around the block or starting a stretching program to regain your range of motion can be helpful. You may also want to make an appointment with a nutritionist to make sure that you are getting the appropriate amount of hydration and nutrients in your diet. The key is to stay active, even a little bit, to maintain your mobility, flexibility, and health as you recover.