By Linda Trinh, PhD
Exercise and Cancer Survivorship
Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education
University of Toronto
Based on the current health recommendations,1 Canadians are asked to take steps to reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) which include:
- follow the advice of your local public health authority
- wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
- try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth
- avoid close contact with people who are sick and practice physical distancing
- cough and sneeze into your sleeve and not your hands
- stay home as much as possible and if you need to leave the house practice physical distancing (approximately 2m)
Those at greatest risk for more serious outcomes of COVID-19 are2:
- older adults (age 65 and older)
- people with chronic diseases (such as cancer)
- those with compromised immune systems (such as individuals going through cancer treatment)
Many of us may have feelings of stress and anxiety due to COVID-19 as the situation is evolving every day. However, the Canadian Cancer Society has offered numerous strategies with coping with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic.3
One suggestion is to be as physically active as you can. Physical activity can also reduce your feelings of anxiety and stress during these times.
Physical activity is a safe and helpful way for individuals living with and beyond cancer to lessen the impact of cancer treatment on their physical and mental health, including kidney cancer survivors.4,5 Cancer survivors should be moving throughout their cancer therapy and survivorship as much as tolerated.
Physical activity is beneficial at all phases of the cancer care trajectory, including prevention, treatment, recovery and improved survival. There is strong evidence that exercising during and after cancer treatment improves fatigue, anxiety, depression, physical function, and quality of life, and does not exacerbate lymphedema.6
Experts now recommend that cancer patients and survivors perform aerobic and resistance training for approximately 30 minutes per session, three times a week, to achieve health benefits.6 Even some physical activity is better than none.
The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) can make it challenging to be physically active and our usual physical activity routine may be disrupted. Your past routine may have consisted of going to the gym, workout class, or exercising in a group, for example. Although these options are not viable right now, it doesn’t mean that there are no options to continue to be physically active.
Here are some practical suggestions on staying active during the pandemic.
- Walk briskly around your house or go up and down your stairs
- Dance to your favourite music
- If you have your own fitness equipment at home such as cardio machines, continue to use them
- Walk, jog, or bicycle ride around your neighbourhood, but avoid crowded spaces and maintain the recommended 2 metre physical distance between individuals
- Do gardening and lawn work
- Try an online home-based fitness class designed specifically for cancer survivors. These videos below are designed for all fitness levels with no or minimal equipment to get you moving at a moderate intensity (e.g., you can still have a conversation easily. If you can only say a few words before you have to take a breath, then it’s vigorous-intensity activity)
Please note that all videos posted here are not an endorsement, but for informational purposes only.
The Treloar Physio Cancer Exercise Program (Canada) has a variety of exercise videos from beginner and advanced
The Massachusetts General Cancer Center (USA) has a series of 8 exercise videos for cancer patients from easy intensity to advanced intensity, including yoga
Cardio Dance Workout from the Massachusetts General Cancer Center (USA)
MUSCLE STRENGTHENING ACTIVITIES
If you don’t have dumbbells at home, use common household items such as soup cans, laundry detergent, water bottles, or any other household objects that would be suitable for weights. You can also use your own body weight.
- Perform arm curls with household objects
- Perform wall squats or chair sit-to-stands from a sturdy chair
- Push-ups against a wall, the kitchen counter or the floor
- Step in place or use your stairs to do step ups.
Try these strength exercises from the MD Anderson Cancer Center (USA)
Lower body exercises that can be done at the hospital from the MD Anderson Cancer Center (USA)
Upper body exercises that can be done at the hospital from the MD Anderson Cancer Center (USA)
While we are encouraged to practice physical distancing, this doesn’t mean social distancing. We can still engage our social support networks virtually. You and a friend or family member can keep each other accountable by keeping a record of the activities that you do.
Organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) have shared a variety of resources to help you stay active during the pandemic that are also useful:
When performing any physical activity, be aware of these safety considerations:
- Do a proper warm-up and cool-down to prevent any injuries
Macmillan Cancer Support (UK) with Dr. Anna Campbell
- Physical activity should not cause dizziness or chest pain or pressure. Listen to your body and do as much physical activity as your abilities allow
- Be sure to drink liquids while exercising. If your doctor has told you to limit your fluids, be sure to check before increasing your fluid intake while exercising
- When outdoors, be aware of your surroundings, use safety equipment (e.g., helmet when bicycling), and maintain physical distancing
Talk to your doctor or healthcare team if you plan to be physically active or if you have any concerns about your COVID-19 risk as a result of current or past cancer treatment.
Get active and stay active as much as you can!
About Linda Trinh, PhD:
Linda Trinh is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto. Her area of research is in exercise and cancer survivorship with a particular focus on behaviour change interventions for exercise maintenance. She is also the lead author of the Exercise Guidebook for Kidney Cancer Survivors: Get Active, Sit Less!
You can learn more about Dr. Trinh’s research here
- Government of Canada. (2020, April 24). Help reduce the spread of COVID-19. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/help-reduce-spread-covid-19.html
- Government of Canada (2020, April 20). People who are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/people-high-risk-for-severe-illness-covid-19.html
- Canadian Cancer Society. (2020, April 15). Cancer and COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). https://www.cancer.ca/en/support-and-services/support-services/cancer-and-covid19/?region=on.
- Trinh L, Plotnikoff RC, Rhodes RE, North S, Courneya KS. Associations between physical activity and quality of life in a population-based sample of kidney cancer survivors. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2011;20(5):859-868.
- Trinh L, Strom DA, Wong JN, Courneya KS. Modality-specific exercise guidelines and quality of life in kidney cancer survivors: A cross-sectional study. Psychooncology. 2018;27(10):2419-2426.
- Campbell KL, Winters-stone KM, Wiskemann J, et al. Exercise guidelines for cancer survivors: Consensus statement from International Multidisciplinary Roundtable Exercise Guidelines for Cancer Survivors. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2019;51(11):2375-2390.
June 16, 2020