How to Relieve Cancer Fatigue with Integrative Therapy
Integrative therapy – also known as integrative medicine – is the practice of combining non-medical and alternative approaches to care with more traditional treatment. Common integrative therapies that have been shown to reduce cancer fatigue include aerobic exercise like bike riding and walking, as well as strength training exercises like weight lifting. Other integrative therapy approaches that could boost energy levels include traditional wellness practices like yoga, meditation, tai chi, massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, Ayurveda, and chronobiology. Diet is also an important part of integrative medicine. Finally, you might try to explore your creative side with art or music therapy.
Exercising to Reduce Cancer Fatigue
Stay safe when exercising.Always exercise at a level that is appropriate for your fitness and energy levels. For instance, if you are riding your bike and feel fatigued, do not continue. End your bike ride and relax until you feel that you have the strength to continue, or combat your cancer fatigue with exercise another day.
- Drink water to stay hydrated while exercising. Avoid drinking sugary drinks like soda and sweet juices, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages.
- Know when to stop exercising. If you begin feeling dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous, pain that does not recede (especially in your chest or heart), or your heart is racing, end your exercise routine for the day.
Develop your exercise regimen with your medical team.Your medical team will be able to advise you about what sort of exercise is best for you given your specific condition and medical history. They will also be able to answer any questions you might have about the impact of certain exercises on your cancer fatigue.
Engage in aerobic walking.Aerobic walking is the act of walking about with a speed, purpose, and vigor in order to improve your health and overall vitality. To get started, strap on a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
- Start small. For instance, you might walk briskly for five minutes around your block. After a few weeks when you begin to feel less fatigued, you might increase your walks to ten minutes daily. A few weeks beyond that, you might increase your walks to fifteen minutes daily.
- You can build endurance by taking multiple short walks per day instead of one long one. For example, instead of taking one 30 minute walk, take three 10 minute walks throughout the day.
- Aerobic walking can relieve cancer fatigue.
Ride your bike.Bicycling is a low-impact exercise, meaning it does not put too much strain on your muscles, bones, and joints. It’s also a great way to exercise your whole body.
- You could bike in the bike lane around your city, or ride your bike on the paths at your local park.
- If you have poor coordination or balance, you might be better off using a stationary (non-moving) bike at your local gym. Call your local gym to find out if they have stationary bikes available.
Go swimming.Swimming is a fun and relaxing exercise that could reduce your cancer fatigue. There are many places to swim. If you live near the sea, you could swim in the sea. If you live near a large lake, you could swim in the lake. If your community offers a community swimming area – for instance, a high school pool – go swimming there.
- Don’t swim out too far. Stay in view of the shore.
- Only swim where there are lifeguards on duty.
- Never swim outside during storms and hurricanes.
Do some resistance training.Resistance training – also known as strength training or weight training – requires the use of weights or resistance equipment to help you build muscle mass. Common forms of resistance training include pushups, sit-ups, and weightlifting. There are many types of weightlifting, including free weights, barbells, bench presses, and dumbbells.
- One advantage of resistance training is that you can do many of the exercises at home. For example, you can lift milk cartons or large food cans instead of free weights.
- Start out easy. Lift a small amount of about five pounds. If you feel that you have the strength to lift more, or you are not mildly worn out after 10-12 repetitions of the particular resistance training exercise you’re engaged in, add weight in small increments of about five pounds.
- Never lift more than you can handle. Be honest with yourself and don’t push your cancer-fatigued body beyond what it can handle.
- If you need help developing your resistance training form, consult an athletic trainer.
Using Dietary Changes to Reduce Cancer Fatigue
Talk to your doctor about adjusting your diet.Eating the right kinds of food can help relieve cancer-related fatigue. Work with your doctor to come up with a diet plan that will help keep your fatigue in check and get you the nutrition that you need. Your doctor may also be able to refer you to a dietitian who specializes in working with cancer patients.
Stay hydrated.Dehydration can contribute to fatigue. In general, doctors recommend that you get at least eight to twelve cups (about 2-3 liters) of fluid daily.
- If you are maintaining your weight, try to get most of your fluid in the form of water.
- If you are trying to gain weight, drink high-calorie fluids like fruit juice, milk, or sports drinks.
- You can also get fluids from hydrating foods like soup or Jell-O.
- Try to keep track of how much fluid you are getting every day, so that you can see how well you are meeting your goals and adjust if necessary.
Eat foods that are rich in protein.Protein can boost your energy and help you maintain or build lean muscle mass. Incorporate some of these healthy, high-protein options into your diet:
- Meats like fish, poultry, beef, or pork
- Nuts and nut butters
- Soy products (soy milk, tofu, edamame)
- Dairy products like milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt
- High-protein vegetables, like beans, peas, and other legumes
Add healthy fats to your diet.Healthy fats, like unsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fats, can help your body create more energy. Omega-3s may even slow tumor growth and reduce some of the side effects of chemotherapy.Choose foods that are rich in healthy fats, such as:
- Nuts, like walnuts or almonds
- Healthy oils, like canola, safflower, and olive oil
- Fatty fishes, like salmon, herring, or albacore tuna
Eat high fiber foods.Dietary fiber can help regulate your blood sugar levels, and has also been shown to be of great benefit in fighting cancer related fatigue.Make sure you get plenty of fiber-rich foods every day, such as:
- Cereals containing at least 6 grams (0.21 oz) of dietary fiber per serving, like oatmeal, Raisin Bran, or shredded wheat
- Legumes and beans
- Whole wheat pasta
- Fruits and vegetables
- Bread with 3 grams (0.11 oz) of dietary fiber per slice
Eat multiple small meals throughout the day.If your appetite is reduced due to your cancer medications, spreading out your meals throughout the day can be a good strategy for getting enough food and keeping your energy levels up.
- Keep high-protein snacks on hand to eat throughout your day or while you are on the move.
- Stock up on healthy, pre-packaged foods, like fruit cups, cheese sticks, yogurt cups, and canned soup. These foods make good snacks or small meals that require little time and energy to prepare.
Talk to your doctor about using dietary supplements.A variety of dietary supplements may be helpful in managing cancer related fatigue and other cancer symptoms. However, some dietary supplements may interact with your medications or cause other adverse effects, so they should be used with caution.
- Always talk to your doctor before starting any supplement. Try to choose supplements that have been evaluated by a third party verifier, like USP.
- L-carnitine and ginseng are two supplements that have been shown to be particularly helpful in fighting cancer fatigue. Talk to your doctor or a cancer dietitian about whether these supplements would be appropriate for you, and what dosage they would recommend.
Using Ancient Arts to Relieve Cancer Fatigue
Do yoga.Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that originated in India. It requires the adoption of specific poses which are held for a given length of time, then transitioning into another pose to be held for a different length of time. It also incorporates breathing exercises. Yoga is useful for improving flexibility, strength, and relieving cancer fatigue.
- To get started with yoga, look up a local yoga class near you using the yellow pages. Alternately, try an online search using your preferred search engine.
- You could also visit your local library to check out a book or DVD about how to do yoga.
- You can also use a yoga app like Down Dog to guide you through daily exercises.
- However, it’s best to take a few classes before going off on your own. Only a trained yoga instructor will be able to identify and correct mistakes in your yoga poses that could, over time, lead to injury.
- Yoga can also help cancer patients overcome their anxiety, depression, and stress.
Learn about meditation.Mediation is a broad term for a number of mind-focusing therapeutic processes that may or may not involve movement. The purpose of meditation, no matter its form, it always to help you gain more tranquility and vitality.
- In addition to cancer fatigue, meditation has been shown to relieve stress, sleep problems, and anxiety.
- Try using a meditation app, like Calm, to get meditation suggestions and keep track of your daily meditation goals and progress.
- Browse YouTube for meditation videos to get inspiration. Experiment with different techniques and use the one that works best for you.
- To learn more about how to meditate, contact your local Zen temple and find out if they offer mediation lessons to the public. Alternately, visit your library for a book about how to begin meditating. The reference librarian might be able to help you find books specifically about meditation to relieve cancer fatigue.
- You can also try online guides, like the one here:
Meditate for mindfulness.Focus on being in the moment during meditation. For instance, don’t think about your homework that is due tomorrow or whether your cancer treatment is working. Instead, focus on the sensation you get by breathing in and out, the feel of your feet folded under you, and the pleasant breeze on your face. This feeling of being more in touch with your immediate surroundings is known as “mindfulness.”
- For instance, you might try a simple walking meditation. Walk outside in a wooded path for five to ten minutes. Pay special attention to the feel of your body as you walk, the way your feet touch the ground, and the sounds you hear in the woods. Observe as closely as possible each detail in the leaves and tree bark.
Try tai chi.Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that involves following a pattern of specific motions to relieve stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Research shows that tai chi can help people with cancer fatigue – especially general and physical fatigue – who are undergoing chemotherapy.
- There are several ways to get started doing tai chi. You could look up instructions through online videos, read a book about how to do it, or visit a tai chi class in your area.
- To find a tai chi instructor in your area, use your yellow pages and look up “tai chi instructor.”
- To learn tai chi from a book, visit your local library. Tell your local librarian, “I am looking for a book about how to do tai chi, an ancient Chinese form of exercise and meditation. Can you help me find a such a book?” If possible, get a book with a DVD. In addition to your book, try to rent a DVD that demonstrates tai chi movements so you have a better idea of how they should look.
Get acupuncture.Acupuncture is an ancient form of Chinese traditional medicine that uses thin needles inserted into the body at various points to relieve pressure and stress. Acupuncture could help you relieve cancer fatigue.
- To receive acupuncture, visit your local Chinese traditional medicine specialist or acupuncturist
- Acupuncture might also help you alleviate other cancer treatment-related symptoms like dry mouth, anxiety, and nausea.
- A related integrative therapy, acupressure, uses gentle massaging on the points where an acupuncturist would insert needles to achieve the same effect.
See an Ayurveda practitioner.Ayurveda is an ancient form of medicine originally developed in India more than 2000 years ago. An Ayurvedic approach to medicine usually includes dietary changes, exercise, and the use of dietary supplements which may contain herbs, minerals, or metals.
- If you decide to start using Ayurvedic medicine, let your medical team know. Talk to them about the potential risks and benefits of Ayurvedic medicine.
- Never attempt to use Ayurvedic dietary supplements without consulting a specialist. Some of the ingredients in these supplements may be harmful if used incorrectly.
Opening the Senses
Try art therapy.Art therapy is the practice of doing art to relieve tension or stress, or solve another medical issue – in your case, to relieve cancer fatigue. You don’t need to be an artist to enjoy art therapy. Instead, just open up your creative energies by painting, drawing, or sculpting during your art therapy session. Ask your doctor if your hospital has an expressive arts therapist or if they could recommend one for you.
Try music therapy.Music therapy involves playing or writing music, learning a musical instrument, or listening to music in order to relieve cancer fatigue. Research shows that music therapy can relieve not only cancer fatigue, but also the nausea and pain that often accompany chemotherapy treatments.
- You don’t need to be a musician to enjoy and benefit from music therapy.
- To get started, ask your doctor if your hospital has music therapists on staff, or if they could recommend a music therapist to you.
Try massage therapy.Massage therapy involves having your body gently rubbed and moved by a trained massage therapist in order to inspire good feelings and peace of mind. Research shows that while cancer patients are undergoing treatment, massage therapy can reduce levels of anxiety and fatigue.
- To get started, ask your doctor if your hospital offers massage therapy, or if they could recommend one. Alternately, visit your local massage parlor for a massage.
- Back massages are especially useful in reducing anxiety levels in cancer patients.
- Many hospitals now offer massage therapy as part of their outpatient clinic services.
Use aromatherapy.Aromatherapy involves using essential oils to achieve a therapeutic effect, either through inhaling the scent of the oil or by applying the oil directly to the skin. It’s not clear how aromatherapy works, but it has been shown to reduce emotional symptoms like stress and anxiety. When incorporated into a massage, it can also relieve pain.
- Talk to your doctor before starting aromatherapy to make sure that the essential oils will not interact with your medications or aggravate your cancer symptoms.
- Visit a professional aromatherapist to find out which essential oils will be most effective for your symptoms, and how to use them properly.
- Never take essential oils by mouth unless directed to do so by your doctor or professional aromatherapist.
- Consult your oncologist before incorporating any integrative therapy into your treatment plan.Your oncologist might identify certain risks or problems associated with a particular integrative treatment method. Alternately, they might determine that you are unlikely to find relief from cancer fatigue through the integrative therapy option you’re interested in pursuing.
- Whatever form of integrative medicine you explore, look for a practitioner who has dealt with people with your type of cancer before.For instance, if you’re using music therapy to ease your fatigue from breast cancer, try to find a music therapist who has experience conducting music therapy sessions with breast cancer patients.
- Integrative therapy should be one part of your plan to relieve cancer fatigue, and new integrative therapy techniques should always be cleared by your doctor before adoption.
- Integrative therapy will not cure cancer.
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