Exercise and Lung Cancer: Low-Impact Workouts

Nick Baker, Website Content Manager
Illustration of a cartoon sneaker with people exercising around on it

Overall health becomes a major priority when undergoing lung cancer treatment, and staying active is one way to include healthy behaviors in your life. Talking with your doctor about exercise and lung cancer is important to remain safe and do activities your body and lungs can handle. If you feel chest or lung pain during any workouts, stop immediately and tell your doctor. 

The purpose of low-impact workouts is to lightly work muscles and keep them strong. It’s a specific exercise plan to limit the amount of stress put on your body. Adding exercise to your lung cancer treatment plan is about maintaining your health so your body continues to have the strength to go through treatment and keep the quality of life important to you. 

Nobody needs to do all the exercises listed below. These ideas are meant to show the range of options available for you and your doctor to talk about for a safe and fun low-impact exercise plan. 

Swimming, Biking, Walking, and Running 

This first category focuses on heart and lung health. These are all cardio-style exercises that have differing degrees of impact on the body. Swimming and biking have minimal impact on joints, while walking and running put stress on the knees.  

Each of these activities can be done at different intensity levels, meaning you can customize them to your current level of fitness. For some people this could mean jogging for 20 minutes each night, while others go for a 45-minute bike ride a few times a week. 

An added benefit to exercises like biking, walking, and running, is you can do them with other people and turn them into a social event. They can be done at a level that makes conversation easy, because again, the purpose of these exercises is to move the body and keep your current level of fitness while undergoing treatment for lung cancer. 

Bodyweight Exercises 

Combining bodyweight exercise and lung cancer treatment is a way to focus on muscle strength compared to the cardio-focused activities listed above. These types of exercises require zero workout equipment and can easily be done at home. Depending on the specific exercise, they can be used to maintain muscle in the upper and lower body, increase mobility of joints, and work on balance. 

You can customize the intensity of bodyweight exercises to fit the recommendation of your doctor and based on your fitness level. If your doctor is ok with exercises that raise the heart rate and increase breathing, you can do a higher number of repetitions, like 10-15 bodyweight squats. If increased heart rate and breathing are a concern, keep the number of squats lower, and focus on simply moving your knee joints and increasing mobility. 

Common bodyweight exercises to do at home include: 

Yoga and Mobility Exercises 

For beginners, yoga and mobility exercises are simply a way to get the body moving. They don’t need to be done in a way that makes you sweat. If breathing and lung capacity are a concern for you, choose exercises and poses that are easy to hold, and focus more on flexibility than building muscle.  

For yoga, there are downloadable apps and videos on YouTube to help get you started. Mobility exercises, meanwhile, are similar to bodyweight exercises in that they require zero equipment. If you have specific body parts that are stiff or causing problems, focusing on those first can be a good place to start. 

Resistance Bands 

Taking your low-impact workouts a step further can include the use of resistance bands to make exercises tougher and work different muscles. They’re another way to keep your plan simple and convenient as a single band, or set of bands, can be used at home. 

You can introduce resistance bands to the bodyweight exercises listed above. Or, you can try new ones such as: 

Dumbbell Exercises 

Adding dumbbells to your exercise plan is a way to focus on strength and muscle building. The impact on your body from using dumbbells is dependent on the weight used. Many exercises can be done with weights ranging from 2 lbs to 20 lbs. 

For people who enjoy the gym atmosphere and find motivation from being in a space focused on health, using dumbbells at the gym could be the perfect fit. These exercises can progress to higher impact workouts, by using heavier weights, once the body is ready for it.  

Many of the popular and more traditional exercises can be done with dumbbells such as: 

Additionally, you can include exercises that focus on functional strength, or strength that makes daily living tasks easier. These include: 

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