Ask The Trainer #137 – Working Out During Chemotherapy

Ask The Trainer #137 - Chemotherapy & Working Out


Hi. I’ve been active most of my life, always incorporated weight lifting and some type of cardiovascular exercise in my weekly regimen. Unfortunately, I was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and will need to undergo chemotherapy soon. My question is, should I continue to work out during chemo treatment, or do you think that will be too hard on my system? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.



Hi Ed. I’m truly sorry to hear about your unfortunate diagnosis. I personally know people who’ve battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and various forms of cancer, so I completely understand how discouraging and challenging these circumstances can be.

These conditions provoke a storm of emotions that can be extremely challenging to contend with. The good news is that there are certain measures you can take to improve your circumstances and potentially result in a much more favorable outcome. Weightlifting and other forms of exercise are among these self-empowering measures you can take.

I’ve never battled cancer or lymphoma before, but I’ve battled some devastating health conditions that were life-threatening. I can say from experience that when I was in the midst of battling these discouraging health problems, I found that forcing myself to lift weights and exercise helped me reassert a sense of control. It allowed me to affect the outcome of my life and also counteract the feelings of helplessness. Even though it was a struggle, I found it was empowering and gave me a great deal more confidence.

Exercises Added Benefits

Aside from improving your mood and confidence, there are physical aspects of exercising while going through lymphoma that will help improve your survival rate. Increasing blood and oxygen flow through the body will help make all of your biological processes more efficient, including your immunity.

Chemotherapy can have a very depleting effect on bone density, making you much more susceptible to fractures and other injuries. This is one of the primary reasons why strength training is so important while undergoing chemotherapy. Overwhelming research has demonstrated that weightlifting and weight-bearing exercise work wonders for maintaining bone mineral density.

Bone Density

Recent evidence has also been showing that this type of exercise may even improve bone mineral density. I recall having a bone density test performed after my doctor discovered I had been suffering from parathyroid disease for numerous years.

One of the main side effects of parathyroid disease is the loss of bone density. This happens due to the excessive levels of parathyroid hormone. Parathyroid sucks calcium from the bones and distributes it to other parts of the body where it shouldn’t be. Doctors were amazed that despite my excessive PTH levels, my bone density was superb.

Before I would offer a general recommendation for the type of exercise program you should follow while undergoing chemo, I would first urge you to speak to your doctor about safe exercise parameters, based on the type of chemo you’re going to get.

Be aware that red blood cell production may be reduced as a result of bone marrow damage from the chemotherapy. That would result in your blood not being able to transport as much oxygen as normal. Thus, having an affect your body’s resistance to various types of exercise.

Other Issues

There could also be issues with nausea or vomiting. This could potentially limit your ability to consume adequate levels of nutrition to support the stress of an exercise split you would typically consider under normal circumstances.

A potential nutritional deficiency could very well influence the type of exercise regimen you should be following. A qualified healthcare professional should be able to help you figure out what types of exercise you should be doing and the intensity, duration, and frequency you need. Also, if you’re going to be receiving radiation, you should avoid swimming pools. Bacteria exposure may lead to infections and chemicals like chlorine could irritate your skin.

I wish I could offer you more specific advice. But, considering the gravity of what you’re going through, and without knowing much about you personally, I think it would be wise to obtain careful guidance from a qualified health professional. They have all the necessary knowledge and information to help you devise the right type of exercise program to improve your circumstances and, more importantly, not make them worse!

I want to wish all the best of luck and encouragement as you endure these challenges. Stay positive and keep reminding yourself that you have what it takes to go the distance and win!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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