Although you might not always feel like exercising during chemotherapy, it’s an excellent habit to maintain. Working out could help you feel better in body and mind while on chemo.

For most people, chemotherapy is a draining experience. Your body’s fight against cancer combined with the effects of chemo drugs may leave you feeling fatigued, nauseated, or weak. You may wonder, then, whether you’d be able to engage in exercise during this strenuous time.

According to experts, working out is a good idea for most people while undergoing chemo. Sticking with exercise can create a positive cycle of better energy, improved mood, and more restful sleep. Here’s why a gentle exercise practice can be a smart move and how to stick with it during chemo.

Learn more about chemotherapy.

Although it may seem counterintuitive to get up and exercise when you’re feeling worn out by chemotherapy, it’s one of the best things you can do for your health.

“Continuing with some form of movement, even if it needs to be reduced in intensity, is generally very beneficial,” said family medicine doctor and cancer survivor Chris Scuderi, DO. “It’s good for your mindset and overall health to stay active as you go through treatment.”

Of course, it’s always best to check with a doctor before beginning an exercise routine during chemo. They can give you the go-ahead and may be able to advise some modifications to your usual workouts.

Just like any other time in life, you can benefit from physical activity while undergoing chemo. According to 2022 research from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, people who exercised during cancer treatment had improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, strength, fatigue, and other outcomes.

Scuderi says working out has even more benefits than these. “Exercise helps patients get better sleep and can also reduce symptoms of depression,” he said. “Exercise can also help with other medical conditions you may have other than cancer, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.”

Different people undergoing chemo will be able to perform different kinds of exercise, so it’s important to check with a doctor to see what’s appropriate for you. Scuderi recommends anything light and gentle, such as tai chi or walking. “Walking is generally safe for most patients during chemotherapy and is a good way to stay active without doing anything too intense.”

Yoga is another possibility. A small 2022 study found that people receiving chemo for breast cancer had greater quality of life and weight maintenance when they engaged in personalized yoga therapy.

It’s important to exercise safely when you’re feeling the fatigue and other side effects chemo often brings. Try these tips for sticking with physical activity:

  • Start slowly and build up your level of physical activity over time.
  • Exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time.
  • Include resistance training exercises at least 2 days per week.
  • Stretch at least 2 days each week.
  • Find activities you enjoy rather than forcing yourself to exercise in ways you don’t like.
  • Try working out outdoors to lift your mood.
  • Ask a friend to work out with you.

Exercise may not be right for everyone on chemo. Scuderi says that people experiencing severe side effects from their treatment may need to take a break from physical activity for a while.

Still, there may be very gentle exercises you can continue to do, even when side effects are causing tiredness or other discomforts. “If you are particularly affected by fatigue during your chemotherapy, you may feel more comfortable with very light exercise, such as short, slow walks with a friend.”

Keeping up with an exercise routine is certainly worth a try to improve your chemotherapy experience. Some research has shown that people who exercise while on chemotherapy have reduced side effects and better quality of life. Other studies even suggest that working out could improve the results of chemotherapy agents.

What’s the best exercise during chemo?

The best exercise during chemo depends on what you enjoy and what you feel up to doing. In general, any type of movement that’s relatively gentle may lift your spirits without sapping your energy.

What activities should you avoid during chemotherapy?

A doctor can help you decide whether there are any activities to avoid during your time on chemo. “Lifting extremely heavy weights at the gym, for example, may not be the best idea for anyone dealing with cancer that has affected their bones,” Scuderi said.

What activities can you do to pass the time during chemotherapy?

The fatigue of chemotherapy can make life seem to go a bit slower. To pass the time when you’re feeling exhausted, engage in any low-key activities that bring you comfort. Talk with a loved one, read a book, journal, or play a game.

As long as you’ve got the green light from a doctor, you should be able to continue working out while on chemotherapy. Take it slow and listen to your body — it will tell you how much exercise you can handle.