Let’s do chair cardio

Have you ever heard of chair cardio? If you haven’t, Jennifer Dunn explains what it is and how it can benefit you during and after treatment.

You can listen to this article below, or by using your favourite podcast player at pod.link/buddiesforlife

Diet and exercise have, for many years, been the primary recommendation for the prevention of cancer. More recently, health professionals have begun to understand the benefits of exercise on a person’s ability to function optimally once treatment ends and even more recently, the American Society of Clinical Oncology issued the first evidence-based exercise guidelines for patients undergoing active cancer treatment.

Despite these evidence-based revelations (a compilation of over 100 research studies to be exact), many people still believe that exercise and cancer don’t mix well. However, the evidence is clear: staying physically active improves symptoms and side effects in patients undergoing chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both. It also helps those who have surgery recover faster with fewer complications.

The science shows that exercising during cancer treatment eases fatigue, anxiety and depression while improving quality of life and physical function. Staying active helps patients continue engaging in the regular activities of daily life.

Introducing chair cardio

Unfortunately, the reality is that cancer treatment can leave you feeling ill and fatigued, and whether you’re used to regular exercise or have never exercised before, the thought of doing so can be daunting to say the least. This is why exercise therapists have turned to chair cardio as a low impact way to incorporate regular movement into your day. The general consensus seems to be that exercise should be made of a combination of balance, strength, aerobic and stretch exercises.

Chair-based exercises

Here are examples that can be repeated at varying speeds to improve cardiovascular strength while also working on balance, flexibility and muscle strength.

Chair Rotation

Sitting in an upright position, rotate your upper body by moving your hand towards the opposite side of the chair backrest. You can let the head follow, but progress by keeping the head straight forwards, thus making the rotation stronger.

Shoulder Abduction

Sit on a chair with good upright posture, feet shoulder width apart. Let your arms rest by your side. Lift your arms outwards from your body to shoulder level. Hold, and let them come back to the start position.

Seated Side Reach

Sit upright. Inhale as you raise your right arm out to the side and overhead. Exhale as you reach up and over, leading with your head, bending your spine to the left. Inhale, maintaining the length of your spine. Exhale as you return to the starting position, with your arms by your side. Repeat to each side.

Roll Up on a Chair

Sitting on a chair, with your feet on the floor, legs parallel and knees hip distance apart. Lift both arms upwards in front of you in line with your shoulders. Inhale to prepare, and exhale rolling off your sitting bones to curve your lower spine, tilting the pelvis backwards. Inhale as you roll forward back onto your sitting bones, lengthening your lower spine to find a neutral pelvis again.

Seated Push-Up

Sitting with your fingers facing outwards, and the weight going through your arms and shoulders, lift yourself up 1cm from the chair.

Thoracic Extension

Kneel on the floor next to a chair or bench. Place your elbows above your head and rest them on the chair. Slowly extend your back, creating an arch to add extension to your spine. Return to the start position and repeat as required. This is an extension exercise for the upper back. 

Active Dorsiflexion

Sit down with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly lift your toes up on one side but keeping your heel on the ground. Hold, then gradually control the movement back down.


Caroline Jordan is one of the front runners in the chair cardio world. Her YouTube workouts are fun and exciting and freely available for home-based exercise.

NB! Start slowly

When it comes to exercise, start slowly. Even if you were physically active before treatment, build up your level of activity slowly. Exercise in a safe environment to keep yourself safe from large groups and excess germs. Listen to your body. If your energy level is low, adjust how long or how hard you exercise until you feel better. Always stay hydrated.

Jennifer Dunn is an occupational and lymphoedema therapist who also has certification in cancer rehabilitation.
Her practice, based in Cape Town, focuses on adult physical rehabilitation, especially in the field of oncology.

MEET THE EXPERT – Jennifer Dunn

Jennifer Dunn is an occupational and lymphoedema therapist who also has certification in cancer rehabilitation. Her practice, based in Cape Town, focuses on adult physical rehabilitation, especially in the field of oncology.

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