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Physical Activity and the Cancer Patient—Pull Up a Chair For Your Health

Each month throughout 2015, we will feature a different physical activity on our blog. We hope to highlight a variety of activities in this series so that you can find your favorite ways to move your body!

This activity post is for anyone who is…

– limited in mobility or unable to stand due to surgery or other reasons
– bone conscious and nervous about the impact of exercise on bones
– considering to get back into (or start!) an exercise regimen
– looking to put some pep in your step
– wanting to lessen fatigue
– hoping to mitigate nausea
– focused on increased joint mobility
– wishing to relieve anxiety, stress or depression
– simply in need of a mental health break

If you answered yes to any of these, why not try some low-impact chair-based exercises? All you need is a sturdy chair and some open space. Chair based exercise (CBE) was designed for progressive rehabilitation in the elderly, but everyone can benefit from this type of activity. The goal is to advance from sitting-only exercises to sitting and standing exercises as muscle strength and coordination improve, and, of course, as your body permits. Some additional benefits of CBE include a chance to elevate your heart rate, keep your limbs limber, reduce your risk of cancer recurrence, perk up your mood, boost your immune system, and, ultimately, improve quality of life. (That is quite a lot one can do in chair!)

CBE ranges from low intensity (in control of your breath) to moderate intensity (slightly out of breath or warmed up a bit) to more intense (increased heart rate, more out of breath, may include standing moves). CBE videos are a plenty on YouTube and it is not difficult to find one that is appropriate for your needs and capabilities. Below are links to some low to moderate CBE regimens. Before you get started, however, there are a few basic guidelines to know:

  1. Always use a strong chair, preferably with armrests, and not too soft. Your thighs should be parallel with the floor when you sit in the chair. If in a wheelchair, make sure to lock the wheels.
  2. Do a gentle warm up and cool down if the video does not already do so. This can be something simple such as seated marching, heel-toe taps, arm swinging, shoulder rolls, and arm raises above your head. Anything to get the blood moving a bit.
  3. Do not be afraid to adjust the intensity of the exercise to how you are feeling – everything is modifiable! As you gain energy and strength, seek out regimens that include resistance or strength training to maximize benefits.
  4. Stop exercising if you experience pain, discomfort, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness or chest pain.
  5. Wear appropriate, loose fitting clothing to allow for a full range of motions.

CBE Links:

(Note, if some of these videos are too short in length for you, you can do them twice or combine a couple of them. Aim for 10 minutes of activity and work up 30 minutes on most days of the week.)

Low to moderate intensity:

Gentle Chair Yoga
Priority One – Getting Started
FitnessBlender – Low impact CBE (Minimal standing required.)

More intensity:

Chair Workout (Although listed for “overweight & obese”, it is applicable to everyone; some standing required.)

The hardest part of exercising is getting started and CBE offers a great way to ease into a physical activity routine. A little effort goes a long way, and you will soon feel invigorated to keep going and to do more.

Be sure to speak with your physician and heath care team before starting any new exercise regimen or making changes to your current routine.


Liv Scheinbaum is completing her dietetic internship and MS degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at Teachers College, Columbia University to become a Registered Dietitian.



Helpguide.org. Chair exercises and limited mobility fitness. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/exercise-fitness/chair-exercises-and-limited-mobility-fitness.htm on February 4, 2015.

American Cancer Society. Exercise can improve breast cancer survivor’s quality of life. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/features/exercise-can-improve-breast-cancer-survivors-quality-of-life on February 4, 2015.

Image from Isokinetics, Inc.: http://www.isokineticsinc.com/product/tb_25810

Liv Lee, MS, RDN

Liv Lee has a Masters degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Teachers College, Columbia University and is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

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