Exercising during chemotherapy?
February 15, 2015 11:52 AM   Subscribe

My mom (who is retired) recently started chemotherapy for breast cancer. She'd like to get back into her exercise regimen, but has little energy, and consequently hasn't been able to do too much moving around for the past few days. For people who have had a lack of energy as a side effect of chemo: How did you motivate yourself to hit the gym?

She's in her early 60s. She gets some nausea as well, and has difficulty bringing herself to eat at times. Thanks in advance.
posted by CottonCandyCapers to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Here's an article and there are some significant caveats to exercising while undergoing chemotherapy. Has your mother discussed this with her doctors?

There are infusions that can boost energy by addressing the anemia that usually accompanies chemo, again, ask the doctor about them.

Will your mom be happy doing a lower impact, less intense workout? Is she wanting to work out to keep as much of her normal life going as possible? What are her motivations for working out? Because if you don't have energy, right now the most important thing is to conserve what you do have for healing.

As for appetite, there may be things that can help, the one that springs to mind is pot. Is this legal or easy to get where you live? There are currently drugs that are derived from cannibus, they're called Marinol and Casamet. If eating and appetite become problematic, see if one of these can help with nausea.

Most of the folks I know who have had appetite issues with chemo enjoy smoothies. You can put a lot of nutrients into a smoothie.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:21 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's a question of motivation. If she wants to go but has too little energy, it may be an instance of the mind being willing but the body is not. As much as she may be wanting to maintain normalcy, it could be she needs to settle for walks until she gets her strength back. Best of luck to your mom!
posted by cecic at 12:35 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

If she wants to exercise then it sounds like she is motivated but her entire body is being dosed with cell-murdering poison. It's only been a couple of days, I would give it some time.
posted by bleep at 12:36 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is kind of like asking how to motivate yourself to exercise when you have the flu. When your body has darn good reason to slow you down. Less of a "hit the gym" situation, and more a "try to get up every little while to keep the circulation going" situation. She should definitely give her doctors a call to talk to them about exercise.
posted by zennie at 12:53 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I was undergoing chemo, I was in a Master's program full-time, and didn't want to cut back or drop out, so that is where I dedicated most of my energy. I also wound up getting neutropenia during every cycle, so I had to stay away from the gym during my nadir period - gyms and their equipment are germy!

What I did do, was take walks whenever I could. I liked being outside in the fresh air and sunshine, and it really lifted my mood to see flowers blooming and hear birds chirping.

It's good to not be totally sedentary if possible, but chemo IS exhausting, so your mom should feel free to cut back on the strenuous exercise.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:55 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far, my mom really appreciates them.

Also... my mom is the only person I know personally who has had to deal with chemotherapy - thanks for helping me understand what she's going through just a little bit better.
posted by CottonCandyCapers at 1:05 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

She can consider asking her oncologist for a referral for physical therapy. If you google "physical therapy cancer rehabilitation [name clinic where your mom is getting treated]," there is very likely an outpatient PT center affiliated with them. You don't need lymphedema to qualify/benefit from PT during cancer treatment.
posted by neda at 1:20 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

You will often read that regular exercise boosts the immune system, but that is only for most of the day. Please note that exercise that is active enough to make you break a sweat actually LOWERS your immune system while you are engaging in the activity and up to 90 minutes afterwards. It's only after this period that the boost happens. When you're on chemo your immune system is already compromised, so during an exercise activity your chances of getting deathly ill seriously increase. She should probably do low impact exercises that don't tax her too much and DEFINITELY not while around others as the slightest sniffle that they have could potentially wreak havoc on her during this time.
posted by manderin at 9:02 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am an avid amateur athlete, and went through chemo last year. I did not exercise during the therapy, which was just around 3 months total, I had throat cancer and felt that every calorie that went into my body was better spent keeping me alive than staying fit because eating was so difficult.
I was stir crazy, but weak, so the moment my body felt like it was ready, i was back doing track work, hiking, and playing sports. My teammates and the communities that I am a part of were very very supportive of my recovery, and that helped me immensely.

I hope your mom sails through her treatment and is up and running as soon as can be.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:11 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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