Everyone who reads or listens to the news has heard numerous times that exercise is a key component to safeguarding a person’s health and well-being. Although it has become a part of our collective knowledge, it is still a difficult thing for many people to accomplish.
Exercise is even more crucial for people who are dealing with cancer. It is important for cancer prevention, for staying strong during treatment and for continued health after treatment. What is critical about exercise is figuring out what is best for each person and making it work in their lives.
Exercise as Prevention
Doing what we can to prevent cancer in our future is important to many of us, particularly people who may have a family or genetic history. Of course, there is no guarantee that regular exercise will keep a person from getting cancer, but regular activity does a great deal to fuel our cells and keep them healthy.
Does this exercise need to be rigorous? Not necessarily. What matters most is that people find something that they enjoy doing that fits into their lifestyle. I always ask my clients to start small and try to make it a regular thing. Frequency of activity at the beginning is more important to me than how long someone exercises or the intensity of it. Success builds on success! If you set a goal of walking for 15-20 minutes a day, most days, you are more likely to feel good about what you have done than if you did an hour of exercise but only fit it in once during the week. Once you are walking, there is a higher probability that your 20 minutes may grow to 25 minutes and then to 30…
Exercise as Treatment
More and more studies are being done that point to the importance of exercise while a person is going through cancer treatment. The reasons for this are many, both physical and psychological. Muscle wasting can be a side effect of chemotherapy and radiation. Regular exercise increases muscle regeneration and helps prevent the physical weakness that can occur. Also, exercise helps to reduce inflammation that occurs as part of cancer treatment. Exercise helps to get more oxygen to the cells of the brain and the rest of the body. This can contribute to improved mental health and cognitive function.
How much exercise is needed during cancer treatment? This would vary greatly from person to person and how they are affected by their treatment. Studies have shown that even modest amounts of walking can be effective.
In a recent survey, of cancer patients, many said they would like to have a prescribed exercise plan that they could do at home and would prefer if it comes from their oncologist. Other studies are citing the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of exercise during treatment and are recommending that oncologists include it is a part of a patient’s treatment plan. There are a few difficulties with this model. For one, many oncologists prefer to focus only on treating the cancer and the other is that many doctors are not educated regarding the types of exercise that a patient should be doing. This is an area for oncology departments to explore further. Perhaps there needs to be a trained fitness professional as part of the oncology team??
Post-Treatment – Return to Health
Once a person’s treatment is completed, the challenge is to try to regain strength and health. Exercise can be a component of the recovery phase of treatment. In fact, it can be a great measure of progress. It may be that immediately after treatment, someone is only able to walk for a short period of time and the progress can be measured as time goes on. Activity also provides us with a sense of mastery and accomplishment. Post treatment, this is something that can add to a feeling of wellbeing and return to autonomy.
Finding a way to incorporate physical activity, in whatever form and for whatever time frame works for each person can be a crucial component of health and wellness, before, during and after treatment.