There’s a ‘joke’ among cancer patients who’ve undergone chemotherapy of a condition called ‘chemo brain.’ Going through cancer treatment can be physically and mentally taxing. It’s not unusual for cancer patients needing chemotherapy to be aware of a mental fog affecting their overall cognitive functioning. Symptoms such as trouble concentrating, remembering dates, names or phone numbers, mild forgetfulness, difficulty multitasking, or struggles to find words, are some signs of chemo brain the patient and their family or friends may notice.
Chemo brain is very common (up to 75% of people being treated for cancer will have it) and it doesn’t only affect cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Patients with cancer, who do not require chemotherapy, may also notice a difference in their mental acuity. While it makes sense that ‘chemo brain’ is directly related to the rigors of chemotherapy, it may also be related to stress, anxiety, and depression, common symptoms that come with a cancer diagnosis.
The good news is, even though chemo brain is annoying, it usually is temporary. However, for some, it may persist for some time after all active cancer treatments are done.
Ways to manage chemo brain with exercise
Physical activity is always good for everyone and particularly for anyone undergoing cancer treatments. The movement of exercise helps improve mood by releasing the ‘feel-good’ hormones, reduces anxiety and depression, improves sleep reducing fatigue, and is good for overall health and well-being.
Exercise is also known for improving brain functioning as it stimulates circulation increasing blood flow to the brain that stimulates nerve cells and pathways.
The majority of cancer doctors are advocates of recommending exercise to their patients as part of their treatment. Brisk walks outdoors, walking on a treadmill or riding a bicycle or stationary bike, hiking, or simply doing laps around the house, all count as a beneficial movement that is instrumental in preventing cognitive problems.
Research backs this up. A study involving women and men with breast cancer found that those who met the minimum national physical activity guidelines before and during chemotherapy had better cognitive function immediately and 6 months after chemotherapy than those not meeting the guidelines. This shows the importance of being physically active throughout life particularly in this type of situation.
Here are other ways being physically active before and during cancer treatment can help a cancer patient both physically and mentally:
- Reduces fatigue
- Helps with anxiety and depression
- Improves physical functioning
- Lowers risk of other types of cancer
It is advised for all cancer patients considering taking up exercise during their treatment, to consult with their healthcare providers first. Their medical team can help identify activities appropriate for each individual patient based on their physical abilities. Even for wheelchair-bound patients, simple chair-type movements can help.
How much physical activity is recommended?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that for substantial health benefits and to reduce the risk of chronic disease, including cancer, adults engage in:
- 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 to 100 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or an equivalent combination each week.
- Muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days a week
- Balance training, in addition to aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncolo gy and prostate cancer 911.