Cancer-related fatigue: Create a personal exercise plan

Stages of breast cancer

By Mayo Clinic News Network

As a cancer survivor, you may be experiencing cancer-related fatigue. This is one of the most common symptoms reported by people living with cancer.

This type of fatigue is different from every day fatigue. It can be overwhelming, intense, unpredictable, persistent and severe.

One of the most effective ways to address it is exercise. Exercise benefits both the mind and the body, can improve your sense of well-being and increase your flexibility and strength.

It’s important to remember that you can incorporate light to moderate exercise at any stage during treatment and survivorship. Even as little as 10 minutes of exercise can be helpful. It’s important to begin slowly if you’ve not been active for a period of time.

Try 2 minutes at a time and gradually work up to 10 minutes. This is called graded exercise. Here are a few key points:

Graded exercise begins slowly and increases in small steps.
It means you have a plan and you stay with it, even when you’re having a good day and feel like doing more.
Increasing your exercise slowly allows your body to make the changes it needs to cope with activity and exercise.
It also helps your brain create new pathways necessary to create and sustain a new habit.

Exercise may help your mood and outlook in a number of ways, which may include:

Releasing feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression (neurotransmitters and endorphins)
Reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression
Increasing body temperature, which may have calming effects

Exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits too. It can help you:

Gain confidence.
Take your mind off worries.
Get more social interaction.
Cope in a healthy way.

How to begin:

Discuss with your health care provider
Make the time and set your goal
Be realistic
Work exercise into your daily routine
Begin slowly and build
2 week rule: increase time and/or intensity by 2-5 minutes every 2 weeks
Pace yourself to avoid the crash and burn
Be patient
Tolerance will differ from day to day
Be flexible
Consider non-traditional modes of exercise/activity (such as yoga or tai chi)

Take precautions and adjust your activity if you experience any of these symptoms:

Low blood counts
Pain and tingling in fingers or toes
Severe weight loss
Difficulty breathing
Bone pain
Severe nausea or weakness

If you have cancer-related fatigue, you can have an exercise program designed for you by a health expert such as a physical therapist.