Maintaining an exercise program throughout cancer treatment is not only safe; it can be an effective way to manage fatigue, depression and treatment side effects.

Be sure to discuss your exercise plans with your physician before starting an exercise program and throughout your cancer treatment. All participants must have medical release on file with Team Survivor Perseverance before participating in any Team Survivor Perseverance program.

Discuss the different components of an exercise program aerobic exercise, strength/resistance training and flexibility training (stretching) with your program leader.

Exercise Intensity, Duration and Frequency (Aerobic Exercise)
Monitoring your heart rate is the best way to tell if you are staying at appropriate intensity levels:

  • During treatment, it is best to stay below 65% of your maximum heart rate.
  • After treatment, exercising above 65% of your maximum heart rate is encouraged (60-80%).
  • Exercising above 80% of your maximum heart rate is not recommended for 3-6 months following treatment. (If you were in good athletic condition before treatment, these higher heart rates may be acceptable sooner).
  • Check your heart rate at your neck or wrist (or, by using a heart rate monitor) before, during and at 2 and 5 minutes after exercise. Your heart rate should be under 120 two minutes after exercise (when you are in condition; five minutes after exercise when you are just starting out). If it is not, back off on your intensity.
  • If you are new to aerobic exercise, or returning after a period of little or no exercise, you might want to begin with 5-10 minute (or shorter) sessions of exercise, gradually increasing to 20-30 minutes. To reap the most benefits, aim to perform aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week.

Blood Levels
Your blood level counts will serve as a guide for your exercise plans. It is helpful if you keep a logbook of your blood counts.

Platelet Count <= 50,000

  • Gentle exercise (stretching, gentle movement) is okay.
  • More intense exercise could cause internal bruising or bleeding.

Hemoglobin (red blood cell) <= 10

  • Most exercise is okay, but fatigue will set in quickly.
  • This is due to the blood's decreased ability to deliver oxygen throughout the body (including the muscles).

Absolute Neutrophil Count <= 1000

  • Neutrophils are certain white blood cells that fight infection.
  • Exercise at home and avoid group exercise (because your immune system may be compromised).
  • Do not use community exercise equipment (including swimming pools).
  • Do not exercise in an environment that may expose you to infection.

Exercise is not recommended if you are experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Irregular or resting pulse higher than 100 beats per minute
  • Recurring leg pain or cramps
  • Chest pain
  • Acute onset of nausea during exercise
  • Disorientation / confusion
  • Dizziness / blurred vision / faintness
  • Bone, back or neck pain of recent onset
  • Pale / anemic
  • Illness with fever
  • Sudden onset of shortness of breath, muscular weakness or unusual fatigue

General Guidelines

  • Throughout treatment it is safe to continue to do as much as you are able after clearance by your physician. Be aware that your body may react differently to any new treatment or even the next dose of the same treatment.
  • Inadequate diet or insufficient fluid intake may also cause adverse symptoms and compromise exercise capabilities during and after treatment.

Cancer Treatment Recovery

  • Recovery varies greatly among individuals, cancers, surgeries and treatments.
  • Expect two weeks to four months for most radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Longer recovery time is needed with repetitive, loner or more intense treatments.

Post-Surgery Exercise

  • Exercise should be monitored by your surgeon or physical therapist.
  • Your ability to return to your exercise regimen at previous levels is based on recovery rate and personal goals.
  • It is a good idea to begin range of motion exercises before surgery. In order to regain movement of joints, it is important to do these exercises after surgery (under the direction of your surgeon or physical therapist).

Team Survivor Perseverance - Juneau, Alaska
Updated February 15, 2014