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Exercising with Lung Cancer

Man stretching before he runs.

If you or a loved one is undergoing cancer treatment, you know how exhausting the experience can be. Experts call it cancer-related fatigue, and it’s one of the most draining side effects of treatment. Fortunately, you can take steps to alleviate it. In fact, research shows that exercise can help combat cancer-related fatigue and improve quality of life, even for people still in treatment.

What is cancer-related fatigue?

Normally, fatigue is temporary and is linked to physical activity or exertion. With cancer-related fatigue, you may feel a random, sudden wave of severe fatigue that sleep doesn’t help to relieve. If left untreated, cancer-related fatigue can make it hard for you to have the energy to enjoy doing the things you love.

Exercising with Lung Cancer

When it comes to exercise and lung cancer, the goal is to find the right amount that helps you feel more energized but doesn’t tire you out.

“If you’re still in treatment, you may have low energy levels and not feel up to that much, but it’s beneficial to get even low-intensity activity on the days you’re feeling better,” says Peggy Lang, coordinator of the multidisciplinary and screening clinics in the Lung Cancer Program at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

Low-intensity activities, like easy walking or light stretching, are great options for improving your cardiovascular health without overdoing it.

Beyond cancer-related fatigue, light to moderate exercise during cancer treatment has multiple benefits, including:

  • Reduced stress

  • Boosted self-esteem, mood and motivation

  • Improved immune system function

  • Increased cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength

  • Help with breathing problems, such as shortness of breath

Ideas for Staying Active

Keep things easy with low-intensity activities, including:

  • Easy walking: Choose walking over driving when possible, or make it a habit to go for a short walk after dinner each night.

  • Light stretching: Start and end the day with a few simple stretches to prevent muscle tightness and joint stiffness.

  • Gentle yoga: Check out gentle yoga classes at studios in your community or online. Make sure to pick a class that’s geared toward gentle, restorative yoga postures. An added benefit to yoga is that you’ll learn deep breathing exercises to improve your lung capacity.

  • Tai Chi: This ancient Chinese form of exercise is referred to as “moving meditation” and helps with focus, concentration, balance and mindfulness.

Talk to Your Doctor First

It is always important to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program during treatment. There are certain types of exercise that may not be appropriate for everyone with lung cancer. With your doctor, you can figure out what activities will help support your lung cancer treatment.

More Information About Lung Cancer Support from Johns Hopkins Medicine

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Lung Cancer Resources

Find a list of resources and support programs offering information and support to anyone living with lung cancer.

Read more.

#TomorrowsDiscoveries: Improving Quality of Life for Patients with Lung Cancer - Stephen Broderick, M.D.

#TomorrowDiscoveries: Dr. Stephen Broderick and his team investigate which treatments best protect quality of life—not just survival—for patients with lung cancer.

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