Exercise – your secret weapon in fighting cancer

 Group of cheerful diverse friends in the park

Exercise – your secret weapon in fighting cancer

Thankfully, the days of telling someone diagnosed with cancer to go home, rest and reduce their physical activity are far and few between.  Today, physical activity or exercise is being viewed as a key player in the first line of defense in beating back cancer and especially in tackling cancer-related fatigue.

More studies are pointing to the advantages of being physically active during cancer treatment.  For most cancer patients, it is usually considered to be safe and has been shown to improve a patient physically, mentally, and emotionally enhancing a patient’s coping with treatment side effects and survivability. Resting too much or avoiding exercise can lead to loss of body function, muscle weakness, and reduced range of motion.

Getting started

Depending on the type and stage of cancer a person is diagnosed with can determine what type of physical activity to participate in.  Every cancer patient is unique.  There is no one prescribed exercise regimen that fits all cancer patients.   Some people with cancer will not necessarily want or feel like being physically active especially it it’s been awhile since exercising.  They will need to start off slowly, easing into exercise.   The goal should be to stay active and fit as possible to keep up strength and stamina to actively participate in usual daily activities.  Doing so can help tremendously with reducing fatigue, maintaining muscle and bone mass, and improving overall outlook and quality of life.

There are certain factors to consider affecting a person’s ability to exercise with cancer:

·      The type and stage of cancer

·      The cancer treatment protocol

·      A person’s stamina, strength and fitness level

No matter if a person was already quite active before a cancer diagnosis or not, each patient needs to discuss with their oncologist getting their input on tailoring a safe exercise program to meet their specific needs and goals best suited for them.

Benefits of exercise during cancer treatment

Here is how exercise may help someone going through cancer:

·      Maintains or improves physical abilities

·      Improves balance, lowering risks of falls and broken bones

·      Prevents muscle wasting due to inactivity

·      Lowers risk of heart disease

·      Reduces risk of osteoporosis

·      Improves circulation and flow of blood to the legs lowering risk of blood clots

·      Improves independence on being able to do normal daily activities

·      Reduces nausea

·      Improves self-esteem

·      Lowers risk of anxiety and depression

·      Improves ability to keep social contacts

·      Reduces symptoms of fatigue

·      Improves quality and outlook on life

Ways to add physical activity each day

There will be some days when a cancer patient does not feel like exercising or the day is particularly busy making it difficult to get in regular physical activity.  Here are some ideas on how to add in physical activity to things done each day:

·      Take a walk after dinner

·      Ride your bike to do errands or for fun

·      Play active games with kids such as tag or jump rope

·      Walk a dog

·      Weed your garden

·      Dance to music

·      Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator

·      Get off the bus several stops early and walk the rest of the way

·      Park farther away from a destination to get in extra walking

·      Wear a pedometer every day as a reminder to increase daily steps

Make exercise fun and easy but safe

A cancer diagnosis does not mean an end to getting or staying fit.  What it does mean is to view exercise as one piece of the puzzle of treating cancer.  Working with their oncologist and healthcare team to support them in their exercise endeavors can help someone stick with an exercise program. 

To keep an exercise program consistent during cancer a person needs to set both short-term and long-term goals with the objective to keep as active as possible.  No matter what form of exercise is chosen, to prevent boredom, mix up the type of physical activity, keep it safe, enjoyable, and most importantly, focus on having fun.