By Linda Trinh, PhD
Assistant Professor, Exercise and Cancer Survivorship
Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education
University of Toronto
Physical activity is a safe and helpful way for individuals living with and beyond cancer to lessen the impact of cancer treatment on their physical and mental health. Cancer survivors should be moving throughout their cancer therapy and survivorship as much as tolerated. Physical activity is beneficial at all phases of the cancer care trajectory including prevention, treatment, recovery and improved survival. There is strong evidence that exercising during and after cancer treatment improves fatigue, anxiety, depression, physical function, and quality of life, and does not exacerbate lymphedema.1 Experts now recommend that cancer patients and survivors perform aerobic and resistance training for approximately 30 minutes per session, three times a week, to achieve health benefits.1 Even some physical activity is better than none. The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) made it a challenge to be physically active and your usual physical activity routine may have been disrupted. Your past routine may have consisted of going to the gym, workout class, or exercising in a group, for example. Although these options might not viable right now, it doesn’t mean that there are no options to continue to be physically active. Here are some practical suggestions on staying active during the pandemic.
- Try an online home-based fitness class designed specifically for cancer survivors.
- Walk briskly around your house or go up and down your stairs
- Dance to your favourite music
- If you have your own fitness equipment at home such as cardio machines, continue to use them.
- Walk, jog, or bicycle ride around your neighborhood, but avoid crowded spaces and maintain the recommended 2 metre physical distance between individuals.
- Do gardening and lawn work
Muscle Strengthening Activities:
- If you don’t have dumbbells at home, use common household items such as soup cans, laundry detergent, water bottles or any other household items that would be suitable for weights. You can also use your own body weight.
- Perform arm curls with household objects.
- Perform wall squats or chair sit-to-stands from a sturdy chair.
- Push-ups against a wall, the kitchen counter or floor
- Step in place or use your stairs to do step-ups
While we are encouraged to practice physical distancing, this doesn’t mean social distancing. We can still engage our social support networks virtually. You and a friend or family member can keep each other accountable by keeping a record of the activities that you do.
When performing any physical activity, be aware of these safety considerations:
- Do a proper warm-up and cool-down to prevent any injuries
- Physical activity should not cause dizziness or chest pain or pressure. Listen to your body and do as much physical activity as your abilities allow.
- Be sure to drink liquids while exercising. If your doctor has told you to limit your fluids, be sure to check before increasing your fluid intake while exercising.
- When outdoors, be aware of your surroundings, use safety equipment (e.g., helmet when bicycling), and maintain physical distancing.
Talk to your doctor or healthcare team if you plan to be physically active or if you have any concerns about your COVID-19 risk as a result of current or past cancer treatment.
Get active and stay active as much as you can!
About Linda Trinh, PhD:
is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto. Her area of research is in exercise and cancer survivorship with a particular focus on behaviour change interventions for exercise maintenance. She is also the lead author of the Exercise Guidebook for Kidney Cancer Survivors:
Get Active, Sit Less! Learn more about Dr. Trinh’s research here: https://kpe.utoronto.ca/academicsresearchresearch-units-labs-centres/exercise-oncology-lab
More on physical activity for older adults: https://www.sbm.org/healthy-living/covid-safe-winter-physical-activity-ideas-a-special-focus-on-older-adults
1. Campbell KL, Winters-stone KM, Wiskemann J, et al. Exercise guidelines for cancer survivors: Consensus statement from International Multidisciplinary Roundtable Exercise Guidelines for Cancer Survivors. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2019;51(11):2375-2390