Nancy Campbell, MS, exercise physiologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, provides tips on how cancer patients can stay active to help lower stress, strengthen muscle mass, elevate mood and improve sleep patterns.
Nancy Campbell, MS
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common
complaints among cancer patients and survivors.
• Typically occurs during treatment or in the first year after
• Can last for long periods of time and doesn’t go away
after sleep or rest.
Research shows that cancer patients who get
regular exercise report feeling less tired.
Physical activity can:
• Lower stress
• Strengthen muscle mass
• Elevate mood
• Improve sleep patterns
Read more about research related to exercise and cancer:
Here are a few tips to help you start an
exercise routine to address fatigue:
TIP: Choose an exercise you enjoy
You’re more likely to stay active if you enjoy what you’re doing.
• Walking (preferred by many cancer patients)
You may also benefit from mind and body exercises
• Qigong – A form of traditional Chinese mind/body exercise
and meditation that uses slow and precise body movements
with controlled breathing and mental focusing to improve
balance, flexibility, muscle strength and overall health.
• Tai chi – A form of mind/body exercise and meditation that uses
slow sets of body movements and controlled breathing.
• Yoga – A system of practices used to balance the mind and body
through exercise, meditation and control of breathing and emotions.
These mind and body exercises are all available through Dana-Farber’s Zakim
TIP: Check with your doctor
Before you begin:
• Make sure your exercise plan won’t interfere with your
treatment or recovery
• Ask your doctor about precautions you should take or
activities to avoid
TIP: Start at a pace that matches
your fitness level
Ideally, you want to get at least 3-5 hours of moderate activity
every week to reduce fatigue
Work your way up:
• Increase your activity level by 10 percent each week
Example: Start with a 10-minute walk, then an 11-minute walk the following
week, and work your way up.
• Focus on incremental goals
• Start with a light activity for short periods of time and build up
to at least 5 hours of activity per week
TIP: Don’t overdo it
If you find fatigue is becoming worse when you exercise, you’re
probably exercising too hard.
Other warning signs to watch for when exercising:
• Extreme shortness of breath
• Unusually fast heart rate
Remember: A little bit of exercise is better than nothing,
even small steps can help.
• If you’re not feeling well enough to exercise, even a short walk
around the block can be helpful
• Consider starting a stretching program to regain your range of
The key is to stay active, even a little bit, to maintain
mobility and flexibility.
For more information on exercise classes and consults
for cancer patients and survivors, visit: http://www.dana-
Read a January 2013 Insight blog post from Nancy
Campbell, MS, for more information on the benefits of
physical activity for cancer patients: http://blog.dana-