Benefits of physical exercise for cancer patients

Staying active throughout the day can help one feel better and reduce the health risk. It is scientifically proven that physical activity is important for overall health. Exercise is important for lowering cancer risk by controlling the weight and reducing hormones or insulin while helping to strengthen the immune system. It can boost the quality of life during treatment. Even if you were not active before your cancer diagnosis, an exercise plan can help you get going effectively.

While the significance of exercise has been proven, several studies have demonstrated the benefits of exercise when done within the spectrum of cancer care. Exercising not only helps in improving the quality of life, but also empowers cancer patients by building their self-esteem, thus ensuring longer life, and better mental health. Improved health and quality of life are also indicators of decreased risk of cancer recurrence and long-term survival. However, it is important to keep in mind that the level and intensity of exercises will be different in the pre- and post-treatment stages.

The benefits of exercising during cancer treatments are manifold. It helps in:

  • Reducing continuous feeling of fatigue
  • Reducing side-effects of chemotherapy
  • Enhancing the immune system for other cancer treatment methods like targeted therapy or Immunotherapy
  • Increasing appetite
  • Improving quality of sleep
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Alleviating mental health and improving self-esteem
  • Improving bone and muscle mass alongside a range of motion
  • Improves quality of life

Is exercising during cancer treatment safe?

On diagnosis, most of the cancer patients often withdraw themselves from their normal daily activities and slip into a “patient” mode where tests, diagnosis, and treatment continue to overwhelm them and their emotions. This results in people adapting to a more sedentary lifestyle and fearing that exercising might make the pain-stricken experience worse. Several researchers suggest that the outcomes of aerobic and resistance exercising are positive and can reduce pain and fatigue, depression and anxieties. Exercising helps to relieve stress, alleviate the side effects and boost the immune system to help you sustain the treatments.

Guidelines to follow

For people with cancer, the guidelines are applied uniformly. One must engage in moderate physical activity during the week. However, if you are not able to do so, start by being active, stay flexible and incorporate increased physical activities in your daily routine.

While getting clearance from your oncologist is a must due to the complications that may arise post-surgery or treatment. It is recommended to stay active. The oncologist will consider factors such as the type and stage of cancer, the mode of treatment and the level of stamina and fitness during the treatment. The fitness trainer must be informed about the diagnosis and limitations about the type of exercises that may cause harm. While you may be advised to start with a slow walk, you will gradually progress to performing stretching and resistance exercises as your health improves.

Tips to follow during the fitness program

  1. Avoid places with uneven surfaces to prevent falling
  2. Choose well-lit, clean and safe places with lower risk of infections
  3. Have someone around you to help in case of an emergency
  4. Do not exercise when you feel nauseated or dizzy
  5. Take short and frequent breaks
  6. Do not overdo or push yourself to do more beyond the recommended schedule
  7. Stay hydrated

Many people find that as they start treatment, the ability to be active may be harder. If you were physically active before treatment, you may not be able to follow the same exercise routine as before. After treatment, it will take time to return to your pre-cancer fitness level. So, take one step at a time and do not pressurize yourself. It is important to take charge of the body, focus on progress and improve the quality of life that the course of cancer treatment may have altered.

BY: Dr. Pavan Raghava Reddy, Medical Oncologist, HCG Cancer Hospital, Vijayawada

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