Exercising with Ovarian Cancer

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2021

Exercise and physical activity are an important part of a healthy lifestyle, especially for those living with cancer. Physical activity or exercise may include things like walking, biking, dancing, swimming, doing household chores, and sports.1

Before starting any kind of exercise program or adding physical activity, check with your doctor. They can help you determine what sorts of activities are safe for you and if there is anything you should avoid.

Benefits of exercise for ovarian cancer

Physical activity has been linked to higher quality of life in people with ovarian cancer. It can also reduce levels of depression and anxiety. Research shows that exercise has many other benefits for cancer survivors, including:2,3

  • Between 40 to 50 percent less fatigue
  • Increased muscle strength, joint flexibility, and general conditioning, especially after surgery
  • Improved heart function
  • Improved bone strength
  • Elevated mood
  • Improved control weight (weight gain can be a factor in recurrence for some cancers)

For some people, exercise may also reduce the amount of medicines they need and lower their risk of complications.3

Tips for exercising

If you were not physically active before your ovarian cancer diagnosis, ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist who specializes in working with people with cancer. They can work with you to create a custom activity plan that is right for your needs. They can also show you how to do exercises that you may not be familiar with.

You do not have to join a gym or any fancy classes to get physical activity. If your doctor says it is safe, you can do things like walk up and downstairs, or even just a few stairs at a time. You can also do strength training using cans or water bottles for dumbbells.4

Your local library may have exercise DVDs you can borrow. There are also many exercise videos to explore on YouTube. Walking around your neighborhood is an easy way to get physical activity, as well as fresh air.

Other tips to keep in mind include:3

  • Wear comfortable clothes
  • Stay hydrated (check with your doctor to determine if you have a fluid intake restriction)
  • Consider things like yoga and tai chi
  • Find out if there are local exercise programs designed for people living with cancer
  • If you do not feel well or if you have a fever, do not exercise. Contact your doctor to find out what is safe for you

The American Cancer Society recommends aiming for 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. They also suggest doing strength-building exercises 2 or more times per week. One way to hit this goal is to exercise for 30 minutes 5 times a week, with 2 days of strength-building activities.5

Take your time building up your exercise routine. It is okay if you cannot do this all at once. Talk with your doctor and work with a physical therapist to address things like fatigue, neuropathy, and side effects of treatment.

Do what you can each day. Even a small amount of exercise is better than nothing. Set goals for yourself, and slowly add more activity as you can.

Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about exercise or starting a routine that is right for you.

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