Do These Strength Exercises to Minimize Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

As all cancer patients know, side effects of cancer treatments can leave us weak and drained.  Personal trainer, Daniel, has provide us with some simple strength exercises we can do to help us repair ourselves.  Without further delay, here is Daniel’s exciting workout and guest post on Pink Ribbon Runner.

Combat weakness and fatigue with strength exercises

Cancer treatments result in a wide variety of, sometimes really extreme, side effects. Some of these include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, bleeding, and bruising, among others.

But, in general, a common result of cancer treatment is overall muscle and bone weakness. While it may be incredibly tough to find the motivation to train and strengthen your body in the midst of battling your cancer, you might find that the result is a more comfortable experience.

At the very least, you will be able to combat the overall weakness and fatigue that plague your body during and after cancer treatments. 

Here are a bunch of strength exercises that are easy to do, and can prove extremely helpful in your fight against cancer.

A few things first

Before I get into the exercises themselves, it is important to keep a few things in mind. For starters, you should definitely consult your doctor before you do anything different, whether it be a different diet, different exercise, etc. In addition, you should do these strength exercises 2-3 days per week, with rests in between.

However, there will be days that you should not perform the exercises. If your platelet count is beneath 50,000, you shouldn’t be doing the exercises, due to the risk of bleeding.

If you have any sort of dizziness or nausea, skip the exercises for the day. And if your cancer has metastasized to your bones, talk to your doctor before you start the exercises, as it might no longer be safe for you to perform.

In terms of intensity, try to maintain a moderate level of intensity throughout. You don’t want to overwork your body, but you also don’t want to underwork it – if you don’t go hard enough, you won’t build any muscle.

Find that happy medium – don’t push too hard, stay focused, stay consistent, and stay strong. 

#1 Straight Leg Raise

This strength exercise is a great way to strengthen your quads and your core. It involves no equipment except a mat or comfortable surface to lie on.

Start by lying on your back, with your knees up and your feet pressed against the mat. Lift one leg so that the toe is pointing towards the ceiling and the leg is perfectly straight. Slowly, lift it about 45-degrees, then, again slowly, lower it to the floor.

Perform around 10-15 repetitions on each leg to complete one set and do two-three sets.

If you want a slight variation that will target your core, start in the same position, but with your legs extended straight. Lift both legs together, about six inches off the ground, and slowly return to the ground.

Perform the same amount of repetitions. Keep your core engaged. This is a tough variation; if you are strong enough, it is a great way to build core strength. 

#2 Wall Sits

Walls sits are a great way to build strength in your thighs and core. The wall sit is a variation on the classic squat and provides an easier, more supportive structure.

Stand with your back against a wall and your feet about 12 inches from that wall. Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart.

To perform one repetition, simply slide down the wall until you are in a squatting position. Then, slide back up the wall to return to the starting position.

Do about 10-15 repetitions in each set and shoot for around two or three sets. Make sure to go slow – your thighs will be burning, but the burning means it’s working. 

#3 Crunches with a Twist

Everyone knows the crunch – it is a solid, basic core exercise. The twist incorporation allows for greater oblique strength, and allows you to focus more on your upper abs.

Start by lying on your back. Bend your knees and lift your legs off the ground, so that your legs are parallel to the floor and your knees are above your hips. The closer to the ground your legs are, the more difficult this will be. Interlock your hands behind your head, with your elbows fanned out. Engage your core and lift your upper body, twisting so that your right elbow touches your left knee.

Return to the start, and then repeat the exercise, this time with your left elbow reaching toward your right knee. Try and get twenty repetitions in each set and try for three sets.

These won’t be easy, but core strength is, well, at the core, of everything – it is one of the most important muscle groups to keep strong. 

#4 Hip Flexion

This is a really basic movement that works to build thigh strength.

Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your spine neutral and relaxed. Start with the right leg – keep it perfectly straight, and slowly lift the leg forward, as though you are kicking an object.

Slowly return to the starting position and repeat with your other leg. Again, try for 10-15 reps and three sets. 

#5 Calf Raises

We’ve done a lot with thigh strength exercises, but calf strength is just as important. For those who don’t know, the calf is the muscle behind your shin. This exercise is simple, yet effective.

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your spine neutral and relaxed. If you need it, you can grip a chair or table for support and stability. To perform one rep, simply raise your heels so that your weight falls onto the balls of your feet. You’ll feel a tightening in your calf. Hold it at the top for a moment, then return to the start.

Try for 10-15 reps, and about three sets. 

Help fight treatment side effects with strength exercises

Cancer is a tough obstacle to overcome. But that doesn’t mean your fight should just happen under the covers with an IV. You can take things into your own hands, and, at the very least, combat the horrible side effects of the treatment.

Worst case scenario, you’ll be stronger. Best case scenario, you’ll feel better, physically and mentally, you’ll be less exhausted, and your body will be better equipped to fight the disease and the treatment.

Stay strong, don’t give up. You’ve got this.

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photo credits: Sherri Dafoe, Mairi Gerow and Nexus Gym


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    1. Strength training can help with the side effects of fatigue and weakness from cancer treatments, yes. Studies show that we aren’t as tired, feel stronger and deal with the emotions of cancer better than those who don’t do resistance exercises. It definitely helps us fight. I hope you find these exercises helpful too.

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