“I have lung cancer and you want me to WHAT?” Exercise.
American Cancer Society recommends that cancer survivors return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after their cancer diagnosis, working their way up to 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.
It’s not a crazy idea for people diagnosed with lung cancer to exercise regularly. Depending on the type of treatment you’re going through and your lung function, there are ways to move your body and keep it moving to help your overall health.
Regular exercise may help strengthen your immune system, fight fatigue, combat insomnia, rebuild lung capacity, combat weight gain from medications, improve your cardiovascular health, improve your breathing, reduce stress and reduce chances of diabetes.
So how does a lung cancer survivor exercise?
Work with your healthcare team to determine your capabilities and limitations. Some survivors lead an active lifestyle before they were diagnosed so they likely will continue with some version of those activities after diagnosis.
Other survivors lead sedentary lifestyles and may not have engaged in any physical activity or exercise before being diagnosed with lung cancer. For those survivors, the hardest part may be figuring out just where to start.
1) Start off slow.
Pick a chore you don’t normally do around your house and start to do that. Whether it’s walking to the mailbox to get the mail, putting away laundry or taking the trash to the curb- this is activity! You want to keep your body moving and with “chore-activity” you are killing two birds with one stone! But don’t just do it once, do it regularly.
2) Add some length to your activity.
After you’ve mastered the short chore-activities its time to progress to something that lasts a bit longer. Gardening or yard work. Take your pet (or child) for a long walk. Take scenic walks or bike rides around your neighborhood. Go for a swim in your pool or at the rec center. Pick something you can enjoy doing and do it for at least half an hour a day, everyday.
3) Find your (activity) bliss.
Walking, jogging, biking, swimming, karate or fitness classes, yoga, etc.…what activities are you interesting in learning to do, do you enjoy the most (or for some of you, dislike the least)? Kick it up a notch by doing it with a friend, joining a club or class or even learning a brand new activity.
Before trying anything new, first check with your doctor. Activities and exercise not only help our bodies but they help our mind set too. Activities and classes and groups can give us goals and purpose to our days and become social occasions to interact with other people and not have cancer be the main focus. They can break up the monotony of a treatment schedule, reduce stress and give you some feeling of control over your life.
But I have physical limitations because of my lung cancer surgery/treatments.
One lung cancer survivor with very limited lung function walks every evening around her drive way and once up and down her block to visit her neighbors. On days that are too hot she will window shop at the mall and log steps on her pedometer.
One lung cancer survivor with severe back injuries rides a recumbent bike regularly and logs hundred of miles of cycling each week.
Another survivor struggles with weight gain due to steroid treatment for brain metastasis. She finds that swimming takes pressure and impact off her legs and she is able to have an enjoyable time and reduce stress by staying active in this way. She takes swim classes at her local YMCA and says that some weeks those classes are the only time she speaks with “regular” people about life and not cancer.
Other survivors who were cyclists and joggers and avid gym goers before their lung cancer diagnosis have said that slowly returning to their past activities gave them a sense of purpose among the chaos their lives had become.
There are also pulmonary rehabilitation programs at hospitals and clinics that can help rebuild lung function and help with breathing. This may be the first step for some survivors with severe breathing issues.