Physical Activity and Lung Cancer

Key Points

  • The right amount of exercise when you have lung cancer can make you feel better during treatment.
  • Some types of exercise can be dangerous for certain people. Check with your doctor before exercising.
  • Even low-intensity movement including taking a walk to get the mail or light stretching in bed can make a person feel better.

Moderate Exercise During Lung Cancer Treatment Can Improve:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety, stress and depression
  • Self-esteem
  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Muscle strength
  • Gastrointestinal side effects
  • Breathing

Getting Started

You may lose strength and endurance from lung cancer treatment, no matter how physically fit you were before diagnosis. If you did not exercise before being diagnosed, now is a great time to start moving. Remember to listen to your body and not over exert yourself. Even light physical activity, including walking or stretching, can make you feel better. Some people will be able to start an exercise routine on their own while others will need or want to contact a specialist. Check with your doctor before starting a strenuous exercise program.

Not all types of exercise are appropriate for everyone. Some people need to use caution when exercising with lung cancer. That includes anyone:

  • With severe anemia
  • With a compromised immune system (avoid public places, including gyms)
  • With severe fatigue
  • With balance issues or weakness (never exercise alone)

If you want guidance on starting an exercise routine you can contact the specialists listed below. Make sure the specialist is certified by an exercise-related professional organization, such as the American College of Sports Medicine.

  • Physical Therapist
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Personal Trainer

Where You Can Exercise

There are many places where you can exercise when you have lung cancer:

  • In your home (make sure the space is safe)
  • Around your neighborhood
  • Local fitness center
  • The YMCA
  • Community center
  • Wellness center
  • Yoga or Pilates studio

Make sure to discuss your health with the facility's staff before you begin.

Ways to Stay Active

  • Try to get up and out each day, even just to walk to another room, take a shower or get the mail. Every little bit helps!
  • Light stretching is a great way to stay mobile and avoid over exertion.
  • Participate in activities you liked before you were diagnosed. You may need to modify them, but they can still be enjoyable.
  • Set achievable goals for yourself such as taking a short walk every day.
  • Check out exercise programs on your television, online or cellphone apps.
  • Visit a physical therapist to regain strength before exercising on your own after lung cancer treatment. Your physical therapist also will give you exercises you can do at home.

Intimacy During Lung Cancer Treatment

During lung cancer treatment you might not feel like yourself. You and your partner may have questions and concerns about sexual activity. Here are some common challenges and suggestions for staying intimate during this time:

  • Plan time for intimacy when you are rested.
  • Experiment with other activities that are intimate but require less movement and exertion like caressing, hugging, massage and manual stimulation.
  • Experiment with positions that require less energy.
  • The partner not receiving treatment should make the majority of the movements.

Some precautions should be taken when engaging in sexual activity while you are in treatment:

  • Avoid sexual intercourse and oral-genital stimulation when your blood counts are low because you are at an increased risk for infection. Discuss this with your doctor.
  • If there is a chance of pregnancy, use birth control as some treatment options can lead to birth defects in the unborn child.
  • Some treatments can cause sterility. Discuss this with your doctor if you wish to have children in the future.

Remember: Communication with your partner can ease many of your concerns about intimacy during lung cancer treatment.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: June 7, 2024

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