Exercising during cancer treatment can give patients a boost
Many patients wonder whether they can—or should—exercise during cancer treatment. In a recent report by the American Cancer Society, a group of experts in nutrition, physical activity and cancer survivorship evaluated the scientific evidence and concluded that exercise is not only safe during cancer treatment but also can improve quality of life in many ways. An American College of Sports Medicine roundtable on exercise guidelines for cancer survivors also concluded that exercise during cancer treatment is safe and can improve physical functioning, quality of life and cancer-related fatigue.
The bottom line: Avoid inactivity. Experts say any kind of activity helps. Studies show a significant benefit from simply walking three to five hours a week at an average pace. Walking is easy, cost-free and can be done just about anytime, anywhere. Patients should use good judgment when beginning exercise or continuing to exercise and should always discuss their plans with their doctor before starting.
Some of the most important benefits of activity may be psychological. Being active gives patients a sense of self-control and helps with body image, self-esteem, anxiety and depression during treatment. Because exercise boosts endorphins, it’s recommended for healthy people who have mild to moderate depression and is known to decrease mild depression. It has the same effect in people who are undergoing cancer treatment.
Exercise conveys a range of physical benefits, too. It helps combat fatigue, control weight gain and may help reduce the chance of recurrence of certain cancers. Other side effects of treatment that may be favorably influenced by exercise include nausea, deconditioning of heart and lungs, and loss of muscle mass and bone strength.
A growing number of studies show that exercise may help reduce the overall risk for breast, colon and other types of cancer, too.
While there are plenty of reasons to exercise, some patients may need guidance and motivation in the beginning if exercising is new. One challenge is learning how to deal with treatment-related physical limitations. Ironically, another is healthcare providers who may be hesitant to prescribe exercise since it wasn’t encouraged in the past.