Safe Exercises for Mesothelioma Patients May 17, 2017 10:16

A shift in thinking about bedrest for cancer patients has taken place in recent years. The days of strict bedrest are long gone, and in their place are days filled with gentle exercise and regular movement.

Decades of research show that inactivity hurts people with cancer. In fact, inactivity increases fatigue and decreases quality of life.

But, what if your cancer affects your ability to exercise? That’s the case for people with mesothelioma, a cancer that most often forms around the lungs and greatly impairs breathing.

Mesothelioma can also develop around the abdomen, leading to digestive issues that make it uncomfortable to workout.

Gentle exercise is still available to people with mesothelioma even though they cope with limitations. The important takeaway is to avoid inactivity, even if that means finding ways to exercise in bed or in a chair.

Benefits of Exercise for Cancer Patients

Research on exercise for mesothelioma patients is slim, but lots of research has been conducted on cancers of the lung, breast and colon. Studies have confirmed the following benefits of exercise for people dealing with cancer.

Fights Fatigue: Exercising regularly conditions the body in ways that make it capable of more activity. It seems peculiar that expending energy will give you more energy later on, but that’s how conditioning works. The body gets stronger and fitter and lethargy lessens with a regular exercise.

Builds Muscle Mass: When your muscular system is toned and balanced, the whole body feels like it moves easier and feels more capable to perform daily tasks. Muscle mass also helps cancer patients maintain weight, which is associated with longer survival.

Increases Appetite: Loss of appetite is common among cancer patients, especially those who undergo chemotherapy. Weight loss usually follows loss of appetite, but exercise can help. A regular workout routine helps stimulate appetite and helps people to develop that deep sense of hunger that motivates us eat enough calories.

Improves Mood: Exercising releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins help diminish the perception of pain and produce feelings of euphoria. People who exercise regularly enjoy the pain-reducing and mood-boosting benefits of endorphins.

Safe Exercise for Mesothelioma Patients

People facing mesothelioma do benefit from exercise, but the kind of exercise matters. You don’t want to overdo it and run the risk of injury.

High-intensity and high-impact exercise is popular these days, which leads people into thinking they have to exercise hard to see any benefit. That simply isn’t true. Gentle, regular exercise offers just as many benefits and puts less stress on the body.

Examples of gentle, safe exercise for mesothelioma patients includes:

  • Go for a Walk: At first, it might put you out of breath, but with time, your breathlessness will improve. Research shows that regular, short walks improve breathlessness in lung cancer patients. Start with walking around your house or yard, then progress to walking down the block.
  • Lift Light Weights: Lightweight strength training is a gentle way to tone the muscular system. Start with weights around one to three pounds. You can use water bottles or canned food if you don’t have light weights. You don’t have to get too complicated with it. Simple bicep curls and gentle lunges while holding weights are two examples.
  • Take an Easy Stretch: In addition to cardiovascular exercise (walking, biking and swimming) and strength training, stretching is another important activity to maintain fitness. Gentle stretches involving the legs, hips, torso, arms, shoulders and neck will get the entire body feeling less stiff.
  • Try a Physical Therapist: If your body has any particular setbacks, such as an old back or knee injury, gentle exercise might be challenging. If this is the case for you, ask your oncologist for a physical therapy referral. Physical therapists can develop a routine of exercises tailored to your body to help you feel your best.

Not all exercise is safe for people with cancer. High-intensity exercise of any kind should be avoided. Examples of what to avoid include hot yoga, long-distance running, strenuous cardio and lifting heavy weights.

Get Started

If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, aim to get 20 to 30 minutes of gentle exercise three to five days a week. Try to carve out time each day to move your body and sneak in stretches when possible. The more you move, the better you’ll feel.

Ask a family member, neighbor or friend to join you or help keep you accountable. Involving others will help you maintain fitness with social support, and it just might motivate others to exercise, too.

It’s OK if you feel defeated after 10 minutes of exercise. Stick with it and soon it’ll be easier to get through a longer workout. With time you’ll enjoy the benefits of elevated mood and energy, greater appetite and feeling better in your body overall.

The Pleural Mesothelioma Center offers free resources and support to anyone affected by pleural mesothelioma.

Patients, caregivers and family members can access our team of Patient Advocates seven days a week. We can help you understand the diagnosis and its treatment options and connect you with mesothelioma doctors and financial assistance options. Call (800) 381-1772 or visit for more information and free resources.

Author bio: Michelle Whitmer has been a medical writer and editor for The Mesothelioma Center since 2008. Focused on the benefits of integrative medicine for cancer patients, Michelle is a certified yoga instructor, member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine and graduated from Rollins College in Florida.