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Movement: A must-have for patients with neurological cancers

Exercise can benefit patients with brain tumors.

June 20, 2022

When receiving a brain cancer diagnosis, physical activity and a planned exercise program are not always part of the cancer care plan. Yet, research shows exercise benefit for patients with brain tumors, specifically, meeting exercise recommendations of at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, including two strength-training sessions.

Is exercise safe for me?

If you have a primary diagnosis of brain cancer, one barrier to exercise may be the question “Is it safe?” Exercise is rarely offered due to the fear of adverse events such as falls, seizures, or bleeding, despite little evidence to support these claims. Thankfully, new information has come out in this area and we are seeing positive change in clinical practice for the encouragement of exercise.

The importance of exercise

A recent study found those living with brain cancer should be as active as possible. Meaning exercise is safe and by obtaining higher levels of physical activity you can experience lower severity of brain cancer specific symptoms and higher quality of life. A follow-up question could be “but how hard can I exercise safely?” Experts recommend, “even high-intensity, long-term physical training programs are appropriate during treatment for those with brain cancers” meaning well-planned exercise at any intensity is appropriate.

I don’t feel safe or am unsure of what to do?

Oncology experts believe rehabilitation and exercise interventions are beneficial for the physical and psychological health for those with cancer. To gain confidence for exercise, get an individualized plan, or get help with specific symptoms, oncology rehabilitation may be a great option. Therapists are able to work with you to improve walking, balance, and strengthen hand grip as well as overall body muscles. Rehabilitation services can also help with impaired sensation, pain, visual impairments, concerns about vitals or increased cranial pressure, and dizziness. If you need adaptive equipment for walking or daily activities the therapist can assist you in learning how to use this equipment. If you are interested in working with oncology rehab, talk with your provider about getting a referral and get started feeling better about exercise.

It’s not just physical

Additionally, it is important to note individuals will not only gain physical and quality of life benefits from exercise but also experience improved cognitive function. Research finds that those who regularly exercise have decreased fatigue, better sleep, and improved mood. Further findings found individuals with higher levels of quality of life for physical, functional, and brain tumor-specific areas experience better brain function and memory.

Exercise prescription

Some may have heard the phrase, “If exercise was a pill, everyone would take it.” In many ways exercise is medicine and can help all parts of an individual's health and well-being. With the evidence here, individuals with primary brain cancer can and should be working toward meeting the exercise guidelines promoted for all people. If you are ever unsure of how to be more active or how hard to exercise, contact a cancer exercise professional such as a clinical exercise physiologist or get a referral to oncology rehabilitation to help get an individualized routine that works for you.

Breaking down the recommendations

  • Aerobic: heart rate increasing activities. Try a brisk walk, aerobics class, cycling, or swimming.
  • Strength: activate the muscles of the whole body. Take a strength class, Pilates, or practice Tabata intervals (exercise for 20 seconds then rest before the next exercise).
  • Balance: stability and fall prevention. Try a yoga, tai chi, or Pilates class. Try exercises such as standing on one foot or up on your toes by the counter.
  • Flexibility: mobility of muscles and joints. Try various stretching exercises for the whole body or take a yoga class.
  • Putting it all together to meet the recommendations:
    • One Session: 30 minutes incorporating any of the above (make sure at least 2 days are strength focused).
    • Breaking it up: 15 minutes on strength in the morning, a 10-minute walk later on, and 5 minutes of stretching and balance before bed (still gets your 30 minutes for the day).

A few tips for getting started:

  • Every bit counts. Try increasing your everyday movement. This includes decreasing sedentary time and finding leisure activities such as gardening or housework that get you up and moving.
  • Practice functional movements. Focus on exercises that match activities of daily life such as sit-to-stands, counter push-ups, rows and overhead press.
  • Be Consistent and have a plan. You will see results much more quickly if you focus on making exercise a regular part of your week. Find someone or something to help hold you accountable.
  • Enjoy moving. Figure out how you like to be active! There are many ways to exercise and meet the guidelines so find activities that make you want to move.

Try one or more of these tips to improve your wellness today! Reach out to the wellness team directly for more individual guidance at

The comprehensive wellness program at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest Health is the only program of its kind in the greater Kansas City area. The free program offers personalized guidance, access to wellness resources and connection with supportive care. For more info, visit Cancer Wellness in Kansas City.

June 20, 2022

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