During the weeks right after I'd had chemo infusions for breast cancer, the most exercise I did was sipping on a glass of water, and that seemed to exhaust me. Time passed slowly and my brain felt like it was full of foggy syrup. I got to know my couch and my bed very well, in addition to wearing out a path to the bathroom. Long hours of inactivity resulted in frozen shoulders and as a result, it took me about a year of physical therapy after chemo ended to regain a proper range of motion. Now I know that if I ever have to endure treatment for breast cancer again, I should get up and exercise more to beat back the fatigue.
A study done by researchers at University of the West of England in Bristol, UK included breast cancer patients. The research covered a total of 56 studies and "showed specifically that aerobic exercise, both during and after cancer treatment, can be beneficial," according to lead researcher Fiona Cramp. These studies began in 2008 and were published in the Cochrane Review. "The evidence suggests that exercise may help reduce cancer-related fatigue and should therefore be considered as one component of a strategy for managing fatigue that may include a range of other interventions and education," said Dr. Cramp.
Cancer creates a drain on your body, and can itself cause fatigue. Add chemotherapy to that, and you may have additional weariness, weakness, and lethargy, in additional to common side effects such as nausea and vomiting. On the face of it, it doesn't make sense to put a cancer patient who is i active treatment through a set of aerobic exercises, but patients apparently do feel better if they move around.
Breast cancer patients who exercised during and after treatments by walking, running, or bicycling were able to reduce their fatigue levels. They also felt less anxiety and slept better, as a result of doing regular aerobic exercise. Some groups in these studies did strength training or resistance training, but they didn't get as much relief from fatigue as those who did aerobic exercises.
So if you're in treatment now, or have recently finished cancer treatment, consult with your doctor about starting an aerobic exercise routine. Make sure you have medical clearance for this, then start slowly and make it a regular part of your schedule. Perhaps it will speed your recovery, as well as protect your health in the future!
Source: Cramp F, Byron-Daniel J. Exercise for the management of cancer-related fatigue in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD006145. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006145.pub3