A cancer survivor’s guide to exercise and heart rate

As a cancer survivor, you know that exercise is one of the key factors in lowering
your risk of cancer recurrence. But how do you know if you’re
exercising enough — or hard enough? That part is trickier. And that’s
where your heart rate comes in.

Your heart rate indicates how quickly your heart is pumping blood –
in other words, how hard it’s working. Knowing your heart rate can
help you determine if you need to back off to make sure you’re staying
safe or if you need to increase the intensity to truly gain the
benefits of exercise.

It’s possible your doctor may want you to limit certain exercises,
so be sure to discuss any workout routine before you start. The
American Institute for Cancer Research and the American College of
Sports Medicine recommend 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or
75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.

Your heart rate is one way to determine if the exercise you’re doing
is vigorous or not. We talked with Whittney Thoman, exercise
physiologist at MD Anderson’s Cancer
Prevention Center
, to learn more about what cancer survivors
need to know about heart rate and exercise. Here’s what she had to say.

Learn how to determine your heart rate

One way to measure this is to use a heart rate monitor. This device
is typically a watch or a strap that goes around your arm or chest. If
the heart rate monitor says you’re working at 50 to 70% of your
maximum heart rate, then the exercise is considered moderate. If the
heart rate monitor shows that you’re working at 70 to 85% of your
maximum heart rate, then it’s vigorous exercise – the kind your doctor
may want you to limit.

To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For
example, if you’re 45 years old, subtract 45 from 220 to get a maximum
heart rate of 175. This is the maximum number of times your heart
should beat per minute during exercise.

If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, you can check your heart
rate using your pulse. To find your pulse, use two fingers (your
middle and your index fingers) to find your carotid artery, just below
your esophagus or throat. Then count the beats you feel for 10
seconds. Multiply that number by six. That’s roughly the number your
heart beats per minute.

Check your pulse while resting and then again during or after
completing an exercise to compare your resting heart rate to your
increased heart rate. If you’re worried about an increased heart rate
causing other health problems or you’ve had heart problems in the
past, talk to your doctor before you begin exercising at a higher intensity. 

Take a stress test

A stress test — also called a treadmill test or exercise test —
helps your doctor find out how your heart responds to different
physical activities. This test can help you determine what level you
should be exercising at. MD Anderson’s Healthy Heart Program can help you get started.
Talk to your MD Anderson doctor to request
a referral.

Avoid extreme temperatures

Exercising when it’s too hot or too cold can force your heart to
work harder, and your body may be extra sensitive to extreme
temperatures during and after cancer treatment. If it’s too hot or too
cold, opt for the gym instead of heading outside. (Or try some indoor
activities, like yoga or exercise videos, that don’t require the gym.)

Consider your specific health and side effects

Your heart rate is one indicator of your health and fitness, but it
can’t tell you everything. So, be sure to talk to your doctor about
which exercises are right for you.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.