Exercise, in general, has been proven to be beneficial to both your physical and mental wellbeing. Besides improving circulation and strengthening your muscles and bones, it improves your mobility, balance and energy levels, and helps you maintain or achieve a healthy weight. In addition, it helps you cope with stress, anxiety and depression, and enhances your self-esteem.
Exercise and cancer
After being diagnosed with cancer, many people may wonder if it is okay for them to continue their exercise routine, or even start exercising. In fact, research has shown many benefits of exercise in people with cancer, whether during or after cancer treatment. Some of these benefits include:
What kind of exercises?
Exercise guidelines recommend
at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity
aerobic exercises a week (with each session lasting at least 10 minutes) and
resistance training at least 2 non consecutive days per week.
Aerobic exercise uses large muscle groups and causes your heart rate to rise during the activity. Moderate intensity aerobic exercises should leave you breathing more heavily than usual but you will still be able to speak in short sentences. Examples include riding a bicycle, swimming or brisk walking.
Remember to warm up before each session by doing arm swings or marching in place. Gentle stretches can be done to cool yourself down after your exercise sessions.
Resistance or strength training uses weights or resistance to increase the strength and endurance of your muscles, as well as the strength of your bones. These exercises can be performed using the following methods:
How do I start?
Start low and go slow. Your physical activity should increase gradually over time, especially if you are not used to exercising previously. It is not advisable to try to do too much all at once, as it may be too strenuous on your body. Taking 10-minute walks 2 to 3 times a week may be a good start - then try to do a little more each time. At the very least, try to limit sedentary lifestyle (e.g. sitting or lying for long periods) as much as possible. If you already have a regular exercise routine, aim to keep to it as much as possible. For strength training, consider consulting an exercise trainer to guide you through the use of exercise equipment as well as working out a personalized exercise regime for you. You can also access community exercise programs and resources to make your exercise journey more interesting (e.g. Healthhub, ActiveSg)
Some Do’s and Don’ts
Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. The following are some tips to help you keep to an individualized exercise routine:
When to consult your cancer care team
You may want to speak to your cancer specialist or nurse about a referral to our rehabilitation physician, especially if you have specific problems like pain, arm swelling or numbness. The rehabilitation physician can do a detailed assessment to find out more about your problems, before designing and prescribing a personalized exercise prescription for you.
Read more about rehabilitation here.
If you have any questions regarding any of the above information, please call Cancer Helpline at
+65 6225 5655 or approach your doctor or nurse for further details.
The above contents have been approved by the Cancer Education Information Service, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), for people with cancer and their families and caregivers.
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