Cardio-Oncology: Cancer Treatment and Exercise

How to Exercise

Exercise Basics

In general, exercise can be broken down into a few basic elements. Having a general understanding of them can help ensure you safely maximize your benefits. The basic elements of exercise:

  • Frequency: How often you exercise.
  • Intensity: How hard you exercise.
  • Time: How long you exercise.
  • Type: What kind of exercise you perform.

Exercise Frequency

Ideally, you should make time to exercise most days of the week. This is important because, on top of missing out on the benefits of exercise, prolonged periods of inactivity are associated with negative changes throughout your body. This is especially relevant for cancer patients or survivors who may not feel well after their treatments and who are more likely to be inactive.

Exercise Intensity

Intensity matters! Exercise intensity is one of the most important considerations for exercise. Exercise intensities that are too low may not challenge your body enough to cause positive changes. Exercise intensities that are too high may not be safe for everyone. 
According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, exercise intensity can be described as follows:

  • Light exercise: No noticeable change in breathing pattern.
  • Moderate exercise: Can talk, but not sing.
  • Vigorous exercise: Can say only a few words without having to stop in order to catch a breath.

Exercise Time

Although some exercise is always better than no exercise, you need to sustain your exercise for at least 15 minutes or more to really benefit from its protective effects. However, don’t worry if you can’t maintain the activity for 15 minutes at first. By breaking your exercise time down into more manageable chunks — for example five minutes of an activity done three times throughout the day — you can still add up enough exercise in a day to benefit from it!

Exercise Type

The two main types of exercise that may help prevent and treat cancer-related cardiotoxicity are aerobic exercise training and resistance exercise training.

Aerobic Exercise Training
Aerobic exercise training is a type of physical activity that you can keep up for more than a couple minutes. It increases your heart rate and causes you to become short of breath (brisk walking, biking, swimming and dancing). 

Resistance Exercise Training
Resistance exercise training requires your muscles to contract against resistance using either gravity (body weight, dumbbells) or resistance bands at a high enough intensity that you can perform 8-20 repetitions before feeling tired.  Talk to your health care professional about how much weight would be a good amount for you to work with.

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Published: September 2018
Authors: Scott C. Adams, PhD; Lee W. Jones, PhD; Jessica M. Scott, PhD
Medical Reviewers: Peggy Anthony; Jennifer Klemp; Bonnie Ky, MD, MSCE, FACC

These modules were developed in collaboration with the Eastern Cooperative Group—American College of Radiology Imaging Network (ECOG-ACRIN) Cardiotoxicity Working Group and Patient Advocacy Group.

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