Walk This Way to Reduce Treatment-Related Fatigue

By Wendy Bumgardner

Chemotherapy can lead to fatigue and loss of cardiovascular and muscle fitness. A research review by the Macmillan Cancer Support charity in July 2011 found that exercising during treatment can prevent this kind of decline without increasing fatigue. Moderate-intensity exercise supports the immune system by improving the white blood cell count and the activity of those “natural killer” white cells that destroy cancer cells.

Exercise can produce a sense of well-being, strengthen self-esteem and reduce anxiety. The recommended goal is 150 minutes (or 2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity exercise per week. A 20-minute walk, on as many days of the week as you are able to tolerate, can bring you closer to this goal. Check with your healthcare provider before beginning any walking or exercise program.

How fast should I walk during treatment?
Walk at an easy to moderate pace at 60% to 80% of your maximum heart rate. You’ll be breathing more heavily than you would at rest, but you should still be able to hold a conversation. A brisk pace of a 15- to 20-minute mile is a good goal, but it’s more important to walk for 20 minutes at a pace your body can stand without producing negative side effects. High-intensity exercise or a pace that leaves you out of breath should be rejected as it may cause nausea, fatigue or shortness of breath.

How long should I aim to walk?
Warm up for a few minutes by walking at an easy pace. Then walk for at least 10 minutes at a moderate pace. If you aren’t feeling fatigued or out of breath after 20 minutes of walking at a moderate pace, continue to lengthen your walk. During treatment, it’s best to not undertake long distances that will fatigue you or a pace that will leave you out of breath.

Walking Workout

  • Loosen Up To get ready for your walk, stand up. Loosen your shoulders and neck with a few shrugs and shoulder circles. Loosen your legs and hips by marching in place for a few seconds.
  • Adjust Your Posture Good walking posture is essential to being able to breathe deeply and move fluidly.
    Stand up straight, with your eyes forward and chin parallel to the ground.
    Pull in your abdomen.
    Tilt your hips slightly forward, tucking in your rear.
    Now raise yourself up tall from your hips to the top of your head, as if a string were pulling your head up.
    Relax your shoulders.
    Bend your arms at a 90-degree angle.
    Now you are ready to walk.
  • Start with an Easy Pace Use the first 3 to 5 minutes of your walk to get the blood flowing and to pay attention to your walking posture. At an easy pace, you can carry on a conversation.
  • Speed Up to a Brisk Pace Consciously pick up the pace and keep it for 10 to 16 minutes. You want to attain a pace where your breathing is noticeably heavier and your heart is beating faster but you can still hold a conversation. Maintain that pace for at least 10 continuous minutes.
  • Cool Down Finish by walking at an easy pace for 1 to 3 minutes.
Published September 2011


Exercising During Chemotherapy
Getting Fit After Cancer
Your Post-Chemotherapy Exercise Guide

More Food & Fitness

Feel Better With Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Walk This Way to Reduce Treatment-Related Fatigue