Exercise during chemo?

4th Oct 2019

Before I was diagnosed with colon cancer in August 2019, I regularly worked out. I would usually wake up around 5am and do strength training before my daughter woke up, although on occasions, she would wake up and watch me! During the last couple of months prior to being diagnosed, my energy dipped dramatically, I had extreme exhaustion which meant no more exercise. I also had severe abdominal pains and was on the toilet more often than I was off it. After my major surgery to remove my tumour, I had to take six weeks to recover as I had a pretty big scar and bruising to contend with! I was itching to get back to some kind of exercise but I was also realistic with myself and didn’t put any pressure on myself. I resisted in giving myself goals to avoid the disappointment, if I could not reach them. I had my first run in October 2019 with my daughter, Arabella, six weeks after surgery. I lost so much strength and gains due to being so sedentary during my recovery but I am not one to be easily defeated. Despite that, I was fitting in some strength training before chemo started.

A good friend of mine who had completed chemotherapy and radiation had talked to me about her experiences. She told me how some people having treatment were full on exercising, running and climbing for example. She was not one of them, she couldn’t manage to and openly admitted that she loved a good McDonalds guilt-free and took her own path, and that I should also do what was best for me. It was great advice! Until you experience chemotherapy which is different dependent on your cancer and prognosis, it is only then that you will be able to decide. How you respond to the treatment will vary, each individual will have side effects, some shared, some different.

Fast forward to 4th November 2019 and my first cycle, well as you may have read on my Chemotherapy page, it was horrific! Yuk, yuk and more yuk! I chose to abstain from any exercise, my body responded amazingly to the chemo in terms of eliminating the cancer but it had adverse effects on my body and mind! Exercise was just not an option. After a break away at Christmas to Durban, with fresh sea air and days at the beach, I felt rejuvenated and had gained back some oomph! I managed a run (only 2km) at the beginning of January and it was a small step in the right direction. Through January to the beginning of April, I was doing either strength training, HIIT or yoga on the few days that I felt half human. My chemo was fortnightly so I had a few days in the second week when I would feel able to exercise. After my mum passed away on the 11th April, I didn’t feel like moving at all, as to be expected. I completed my final (12th) cycle of chemo on 17th April then started my running journey on the 5th May. I am having regular runs and documenting progress on my IG account. It feels great to not have to plan around chemo cycles, and to have some freedom back…… you don’t appreciate what you have until it is gone! I still suffer mild neuropathy in my feet while running but mostly it affects my finger tips. Nothing I cannot handle though. I have also started a course called The Core Play by Karin Dimitrovova which focuses on building core and upper body strength using gymnastic and yoga techniques.

I heard a few times that I should take it easy and not to overdo it….. but I know my body, I used my instincts and was fully aware of how I felt physically. Numerous studies suggest that exercise is safe and beneficial if you can manage it. I’ll leave you with this quote but ultimately, it is your body and your choice. I am definitely no expert but there is so much information out there, make sure you keep yourself informed. I will leave you with this extract….. Love, Jojo xoxo

Expert Perspective
“In the past, patients were often told to rest and reduce their physical activity during treatment, but we now know that exercise is both safe and highly beneficial. As this study shows, exercising during cancer treatment can also make a significant impact on survivors’ health and quality of life over the long term. As physicians, we need to do more to help motivate our patients to exercise both during and after treatment,” said ASCO Expert Timothy Gilligan, MD, MSc, FASCO, moderator of today’s presscast.

“It is well known that exercise during chemotherapy can lessen treatment-related side effects, such as fatigue, pain, and nausea,” said lead study author Anne M. May, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, Netherlands. “Our study is the first to show that people who are physically active during treatment maintain higher levels of physical activity in the long run, and this is really important for their health and well-being.”


  • Vilija

    Great post Jo! I have read the same and I agree. If you can manage it, move! That meant a daily walk for me when I felt up for it the week after chemo and bringing resistance training back in on the 2nd week after chemo. And thank you for highlighting that it’s different for all of us ?

    • joanna.naicker

      Thank you! Listening to your body is so important but so is moving when you can.

      • Melanie

        I love that you knew what you and your body needed and that you listened. You are such a success story because of it. Your will and determination to stay healthy shows in how you’ve come out the other side but it’s great that you also highlighted how everyone responds differently.

  • Amy Davies

    Amazing babe. So interesting how the body reacts and so differently for everyone. I love that there is research to suggest movement is so good for you during chemo and all the time. I love how headstrong you are and aren’t about to let things get in the way of your goals. I’m behind you every step (run) of the way ? xx

    • joanna.naicker

      I definitely think it is important to try and move, even if it is baby steps! Haha for once being stubborn has come in handy! xxxx