10 safety considerations for exercising with cancer

Head shot of Judy Boivin
Monday, August 21 2017
physiotherapist with a patient on a yoga mat exercising with cancer

Exercise should always be encouraged for cancer patients, but there are some potential risks. It is up to your physiotherapist to minimize the risks while maximizing recovery. Here are a few things to keep in mind. 

  • Before starting an exercise program, cancer patients should be screened for any physical limitations. Exercises should be modified to suit you and your specific needs.  It’s important for you to be cautious to not always follow the crowd if participating in group exercise.
  • Make sure your heart rate is monitored throughout your workout. Treatment can adversely affect normal cardiac response. 

woman checking a heart rate monitor while exercising with cancer

  • Physiotherapists need to be aware of possible metastasis. Modifications may be required to minimize pressure on bony structures. 
  • If you have a fever over 38’ C, you should not be exercising. Blood values also require careful consideration to ensure they are in a range which that allows you to participate in exercise safely.
  • Take it slowly, take some deep breaths and focus on good posture and technique.
  • Be aware that although exercise has been shown to benefit lymphedema, it also has the potential to aggravate it if it is done too aggressively or progressed too quickly. 
  • Beware of balance issues. It is not uncommon for cancer patients to experience poor balance and may be at risk on the treadmill, for example. 
  • Stay hydrated! Sometimes treatment can cause low blood pressure and you may not be aware of your fluid intake needs. Make sure your physiotherapist monitors you for hydration and any potential fatigue.
  • It’s essential to minimize infection risk. Make sure your physiotherapist has properly cleaned your exercise space and equipment. 
  • Any sudden onset of symptoms, such as shortness of breath, abdominal pain or cardiac issue should be immediately addressed by seeking immediate medical assistance or calling 911.

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