Exercise | Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation

Exercise

Everyone who regularly exercises reaps the advantage of a more efficient metabolism, which effectively improves both body and mind. No one can afford to get physically rusty, but when your body is already fighting disease, it needs to muster all the strength it can. This section will help you understand why and how you should address your physical needs, but always consult with your doctor first before embarking on any exercise routine.  

Why Exercise?

The many benefits of regular exercise have been known for years, and each year new research data supports this.

Apart from enhancing overall health and quality of life, exercise improves physical functioning of your body, improves efficiency of heart and  lungs, strengthens and firms muscles, and reduces tension, anxiety and depression.

Daily activity is essential. Be active at least thirty minutes every day.

  • Brisk walking is a great way to stay active and it's easy to do 10 minutes at a time. 
  • Increase your daily activity when you become more fit. Try 60 minutes or more of moderate exercise or 30 minutes of vigorous activity.
  • Limit sedentary habits such as watching television, playing video games, or computer use.

What Systems are Affected by Exercise?

  • Circulatory/cardiovascular
  • Respiratory
  • Immune
  • Nervous (brain health and mental health)
  • Lymphatic
  • Muscular/skeletal

What Types of Exercise Can I Do?

Aerobic:  Walking, biking, group exercise classes, dancing, swimming

Strength:  Free weights or weigh machines, stretch bands, body weight exercise (Tai Chi, Pilates, calisthenics)

Flexibility:  Stretching (yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi)

What are Safety Considerations of Exercising in Public Places?

  • Avoid public gyms and other public exercise facilities if you have had a bone marrow transplantation within the last year and/or if your white blood cell count is low
  • If you are undergoing radiation therapy, avoid chlorine exposure.

Are there Alternatives to Exercising in Public Places?

  • Home based exercise programs.
  • Aerobic training:   Walking, use of exercise DVDs at home.
  • 10-minute stretch exercises if experiencing fatigue.

How Can I Begin?

  • Obtain permission from your physician to exercise in an approved regimen.
  • Begin exercising with short duration, low intensity workouts, gradually increasing your number of repetitions.
  • If you experience fatigue, break up your workout to 5 minutes several times a day or 10 minutes twice a day.
  • Be sure to stay adequately hydrated.

How to Keep it Up?

  • Do what is fun for you – individualize your workout.
  • Develop a support system to keep you on your workout schedule - get a workout buddy.
  • Pay attention your body’s reaction to your exercise program. If you feel exhausted and wiped out after exercising, do less. 

Watch for Warning Signs While Exercising?

  • Development of irregular heart rate or palpitations, or a sudden change in heart rate or pulse with a change in blood pressure
  • Chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision, feeling faint
  • Fever
  • Paleness or cyanosis (bluish skin)
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea 

What About Swimming?

If you have a low white blood cell count, you may have a weakened immune system. This leaves you with an increased risk of getting serious infections. Understand and carefully consider the risks of swimming in any body of water, including lakes, rivers, oceans or even pools.

For people with a weakened immune system, even minor scrapes and scratches can become easily infected if exposed to waterborne bacteria. In addition, swimming in lakes, rivers and swimming pools can result in the accidental ingestion of water. This may increase the risk of getting certain infections, like cryptosporidium.

Bacteria and other microorganisms thrive in warm water, so hot tubs, saunas, and other communal baths are generally not recommended for people with weakened immune systems. However, if you are sure that the tub or pool is adequately and regularly treated, then they may be safe to use.

It is important to keep in mind that not all people with bone marrow failure diseases have weakened immune systems. Check with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about getting in a natural body of water, whether a lake, river, stream, creek, ocean, or pond, or a man-made structure, including a swimming pool or hot tub.

Another thing to consider while outdoors is wearing sunscreen. Some medications may increase your skin sensitivity to sunlight. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if the medications you are taking put you at risk and what precautions you should take.

What Else Is Important to Remember?

Physical activity should be part of our daily lives and it should be fun. It doesn’t have to be high intensity or inconvenient. Disregard the old saying of “no pain, no gain” and replace it with a smarter one :  “If you don’t have time for your health today, you won’t have health for your time tomorrow.”

If you are interested in beginning an exercise program, there are some things to consider. First, tell your oncology team that you plan to do this. Let them know that your goal is to engage in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Cardio work on 3 days and resistance work on two days. You will want to rest a minimum of one day in between your resistance workouts. Once they give you the okay, here are a few other precautions:

  • If your white blood cell counts are low or if you are taking meds that may impair your immune system avoid public gyms and other public places.
  • If you have severe anemia, check with your doctor before you exercise.
  •  Dehydration, diarrhea and vomiting can lower the amounts of essential minerals like potassium and magnesium in your body. Do not exercise if you suspect the levels of minerals in your blood are not normal.
  • If you have osteoporosis (thinning or weakening bones) or cancer that has spread to the bone, keep the resistance work light.
  • If you have balance problems or numbness in your feet, avoid uneven surfaces. You might consider using a  stationary bike.
  • Let your medical team know if you have shortness of breath while at rest, or after a small amount of exertion.
  • Notify your doctor know if you have swollen ankles, or unexplained weight gain.
  • To avoid skin irritation, stay away from chlorine in pools if you are undergoing radiation.
  • If you have a catheter, avoid submerging it in water.

Just remember, exercising while undergoing treatment is okay. Just use common sense and keep your medical team informed.