Can Exercise Help a Cancer Patient?
Exercise may be the last thing on your mind after diagnosis. But cancer surgery and treatment often result in debilitating physical impairments which can be ameliorated and sometimes prevented by a well-designed program. Exercise will help you to return to the physical activities that you enjoyed prior to your diagnosis.
Exercise is not only safe for cancer survivors, but it can also improve overall health and long-term survivorship. The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer survivors engage in 150-300 minutes of moderate or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, along with at least two strength-training sessions each week. Given both the physical and psychological benefits that exercise can provide, it’s important that we increase awareness regarding its benefits. A good exercise program has the ability to improve your quality of life and long-term prognosis.
Starting an exercise program can be a physical and mental challenge. To get motivated, consider the variety of benefits regular exercise offers.
1. Decreased Risk of Recurrence – The research suggests that regular physical activity is linked to an increased life expectancy and a decrease in cancer recurrence.
2. Fewer Side Effects - A proper exercise program will help to reduce the side effects of surgery and treatments. These can include limited range of motion, numbness, stiffness, lymphedema, osteoporosis, and joint pain.
3. Reduced Fatigue - Exercise can help increase energy levels and decrease fatigue caused by chemotherapy and radiation so you can maintain your normal daily activities.
4. Weight Management – Some cancer patients may experience weight gain, with an increase in fat weight and a loss of muscle weight. Being overweight has been linked to an increase risk of recurrence of breast cancer. Keeping up with an exercise routine will help survivors to maintain their weight and lose body fat.
5. Boosted Self Confidence – Exercise helps you to clear your mind and find inner strength. Having control over your workout, and as a result your improved health can increase confidence. It can also make it possible for you to continue participating in your favorite sports and physical activities.
Taking Exercise Precautions
Before beginning a cancer exercise program, you must receive medical clearance. It is also important to understand the implications of your particular surgery and the corrective exercises needed to improve recovery. There are many types of cancers, treatments and late-term side effects, each one affecting survivors in different ways.
I recommend survivors work with an exercise specialist or a physical therapist who can design the best program for your unique situation. Check with your physician or other specialist tracking your survivorship care for recommendations on qualified exercise providers who can create a program based on your treatment plan and fitness level.
Planning an Exercise Program
Cancer survivors should incorporate aerobic exercise, strength training, stretching, posture and balance into their exercise routine. Exercise that focuses on functional fitness will help you to be able to perform the activities of daily living and return to the activities that you enjoy. For those who were active prior to surgery it is imperative to slowly work back up to your previous level of activity. It is not wise to go back to a gym and continue with a pre-cancer exercise routine. Be patient; returning to your pre-cancer fitness level will take time and should not be rushed.
Find programs, either individual or small group, that will help you to achieve your goals in a warm, friendly setting. The camaraderie and support of a small group can make taking care of your health enjoyable, fun and act a support group. Exercise will empower you to return to your job and take care of yourself and your family.
Cancer exercise books and videos are an essential guide for those who prefer or need to exercise independently. Videos can also be a valuable tool for those who have a busy schedule or who are unable to leave their house.
Once you start to exercise and have less pain, stiffness and more energy, you will be motivated to continue. All of the cancer survivors I’ve worked with say that engaging in an exercise program is empowering and gives them a sense of control and accomplishment. Remember, the goal is to stay healthy, have fun and be safe. Enjoy the road to recovery!
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