7 Exercise Ideas to Improve Memory for Cancer Survivors

Cancer treatment can be a long and stressful process, one that sometimes lasts a lifetime. The shock of diagnosis, the physical and emotional stress of treatment — which sometimes includes surgery, chemotherapy, and various medication regimens — can be a tremendous burden. Then, of course, there is the extraordinary financial impact on patients and their families, another potent source of stress.

It can take a serious toll on the body and mind.

Not only does this prolonged spike in stress have a negative effect on physical health—to the extent that it can even impede the efficacy of treatment—but some cancer survivors report memory loss following their treatment. Mental fog. Disorientation. Forgetfulness. An inability to think straight. A recent Northwestern medical study suggests that such symptoms can be tied to the stress patients experience during their treatment cycle.

“Few things are more stressful than illness.” —Harvard Health Publications

Still, there are ways for cancer survivors to curb this memory loss. Exercise, for one, has been shown to reduce perceived memory loss in cancer survivors. That’s due in part to the impressive power exercise has to reduce stress, be it cancer-related or otherwise. Indeed, regular physical activity can lower blood pressure, increase energy, and ultimately decrease the risk of disease. It has even been successfully employed to treat clinical depression and anxiety, two major sources of stress.

Why is that?

First of all, exercise is known to reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol while boosting endorphins, our body’s self-made painkillers. Emotionally, sustained exercise regimens can boost one’s confidence, especially when we begin to see improvements in stamina, physical appearance, and mindstate.

Given the clear connection between stress and memory loss, it follows that many physicians recommend exercise for cancer survivors experiencing memory loss. So here are seven exercise suggestions for cancer survivors to curb memory loss and place themselves firmly on the road to full recovery.

  • Jump rope
    It’s simple, it’s low impact, and you can take this gym anywhere. The more you jump rope, the better your conditioning will get (and the more cool tricks you’ll learn).
  • Boxing
    Yes, boxing! At a good gym with friendly coaches, there is no limit to the skills and conditioning you can learn and improve upon. If you’re not into combat, there are non-contact, cardio-oriented gyms where you can still hit a bag without hitting people. Give boxing a chance: there’s a reason that it has proven effective against the progress of Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Softball
    Nearly every city has recreational leagues friendly to players of any age, gender, and skill level. Plus, the chance to be social and have fun around your teammates can have a beneficial effect on your psyche (on top of the physical exercise).
  • Breathing Exercises
    Something we often overlook is our breathing. Focused breathing exercises, such as belly breathing and roll breathing, can be a relaxing way to reduce stress.
  • Yoga
    There are plenty of variations and styles for people of all ages and skill levels. They even have goat yoga, now! Find the style suitable for you and give it shot.
  • Hiking
    Not only will hiking get your blood flowing, but you’ll be out in nature while you do it. Find a network of trails nearby and begin slow, working your way up to more advanced trails and loops. Plus, a breath of fresh air always does the body good.
  • Tai Chi
    This widely practiced internal martial art is known to promote longevity and centeredness. Most cities offer guided sessions in Tai Chi, sometimes for free in your local park. We love this one because it is open to all age groups and decidedly low-impact.

As with diet, the key to an effective workout regimen you can sustain is all about finding an exercise regimen that makes sense for you. The list above is a good place to start. Have a suggestion for your fellow readers? Leave it in the comments section below.

Whatever your exercise of choice, you should try to get some kind of exercise every day. This doesn’t mean you have to go out every morning and run five miles before dawn. But try to use this as your guideline: “do something active today.” It can be a fifteen-minute walk. Or ten free squats. A set of fifteen pushups.

Anything that gets your blood flowing and stimulates your built-in stress-reducers is a positive thing. For cancer survivors, this can mean the difference between suffering through memory loss and significantly curbing its progression, if not getting rid of it completely.