Exercise Leads to Immediate Improvement of Chemotherapy-Related Side Effects

If you have to undergo chemotherapy, chances are you don’t feel well. The treatment can actually make you feel worse than the disease. If we are lucky, we won’t have to experience it ourselves. However, to say that you don’t feel very well during chemotherapy seems to be an understatement.

At the same time, keeping active and exercising is important after a cancer diagnosis and during treatment. Meta-analyses show that exercise during this time helps improve quality of life. It alsoleads to reduced side-effects and decreased fatigue and depression. Keeping active with exercise even helps reduce the risk of recurrence and mortality.

The last thing you want to think about when you feel horrible is exercise, be it aerobic exercise or strength training. However, this is a case where “listen to your body” is probably not the best advice.

A study fresh off the presses shows that both endurance and strength training can help improve side-effects from chemotherapy. The benefits are both significant and immediate.

Thirty-eight women diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy participated in 26 aerobic exercise workouts and 31 resistance training workouts during a week. Before and after workouts, the researchers assessed how the women felt. They filled out a standardised questionnaire called the “Stress-Energy Questionnaire during Leisure Time” test. In addition, the researchers used a Visual Analog Scale to measure pain and nausea.

By analyzing the results of these tests, they could see energy levels, stress, nausea and pain after the workout. They found that both aerobic and strength training led to immediate and significant improvements of these side effects.

After performing either endurance or strength training, the women felt that their energy increased and their nausea decreased. After a strength training session, they also reported that they felt less stressed. The number of participants who reported pain as a side-effect of the chemotherapy were too few for the researchers to be able to draw any conclusions. Which is a good thing.

These results show that the body doesn’t always know what’s best for you. Even during something as taxing as cancer treatment, hitting the gym will help you feel better afterwards. The study was observational, so it can’t determine cause and effect, but the women felt better immediately after working out. Sometimes self-reported observations are what matters.


BMC Cancer. 2019 Nov 8;19(1):1073. A single exercise session improves side-effects of chemotherapy in women with breast cancer: an observational study.

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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas is a certified nutrition coach and bodybuilding specialist with over three decades of training experience. He has followed and reported on the research fields of exercise, nutrition, and health for almost as long and is a specialist in metabolic health and nutrition coaching for athletes. Read more about Andreas and StrengthLog by clicking here.