Exercise and Fitness During Cancer Treatment
Guest blog By: David Haas
When a person is fighting cancer, fitness and exercise are perhaps two words that do not enter his mind. Pain, depression, anxiety, exhaustion, nausea, weakness, and finding the time between treatments to exercise may all be reasons why individuals with cancer might not see exercise as important. However, research has shown that keeping fit and engaging in regular exercise can increase energy levels, improve psychological health, and even increase the survival rate in those fighting cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, exercise following a cancer diagnosis can greatly improve the individual’s quality of life. Exercise reduces the level of fatigue and increases the energy level of the individual. The National Cancer Institute states that exercise during cancer treatment can also improve psychological well being, including reducing depression and anxiety levels. The NCI found that even moderate amounts of exercise, such as brief walks, had increased benefits over not exercising at all.
In a study conducted by Meyerhardt, Giovannucci, and Holmes (2006), the frequency of exercise following a diagnosis of colorectal cancer was directly correlated with survival and relapse rates. Those individuals who exercised more frequently following their cancer diagnosis were less likely to relapse following treatment. In addition, they also had increased survival rates over those who did not exercise. Pre-treatment levels of fitness appeared to have no correlation on the survival rate or risk of relapse.
Exercise also benefits the cancer patient by helping to rebuild lost muscle mass. In the case of head and neck cancers, there can be muscle wasting around the area of the tumor. The NCI found that those who engaged in regular exercise specifically tailored around their treatment type and type of cancer were able to regain loss muscle mass. For those with breast cancer, regular exercise was found to stabilize and strengthen the area around the shoulders, which is often debilitated following surgery.
For patients with cancers that reduce lung function, such as mesothelioma, moderate exercise can help to improve lung function. However, it is essential for the patient to work with the health care team during mesothelioma treatment to develop a program to slowly build up lung function. The typical exercise program for those with reduced lung function often begins with very short walks and light exercise, gradually increasing the duration and intensity as lung function allows.
No matter what type of cancer the individual is fighting, a consistent and personalized exercise routine has been shown to have considerable benefits. However, because every patient and cancer is different, patients need to work with their doctor and oncology team to ensure that the exercise routine is safe and appropriate for the type of cancer and the type of treatment.