The Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center

Physical Activity

Author: JoAnn Coleman, RN, MS, ACNP, AOCN

Physical activity levels tend to decrease after cancer diagnosis and treatment. Even though one may feel fatigued, regular light physical activity should be encouraged.

Regular activity may:

  • Improve appetite
  • Stimulate digestion
  • Prevent constipation
  • Maintain energy level
  • Muscle mass
  • Provide relaxation or stress reduction
  • Lower levels of anxiety

Increased levels of physical activity can improve overall quality of life. In choosing a level of activity, it is important to take into consideration the patient's physical functioning and previous levels of activity.

Physical activity should be individualized, initiated slowly, and progress gradually. A nutrition and physical activity plan should be customized for each patient to help rebuild muscle strength and correct problems with anemia or any impaired organ functioning. Adequate food intake and physical activity are crucial to patients recovering from any treatment for pancreatic cancer.

If a patient has limited mobility or is confined to bed rest, physical therapy in bed should be initiated to maintain enough strength and range of motion of joints. Physical activity can help counteract the fatigue spiral and feelings of low energy that some patients experience under those circumstances. Various medications and physical activity can help to increase appetite, and if needed, nutritional support can be provided in other ways for those who cannot eat enough. When patients are in the terminal stages of their disease, it is always necessary to listen to the wishes and decision of the patient regarding the intake of food or fluids.

Advice from a health care provider qualified in nutritional assessment can be helpful in assessing problems with eating and physical activity and in creating an individualized plan to meet specific challenges.