In the past, people with cancer were often advised to avoid physical activity, but for many patients, regular exercise is beneficial.
In the past, people being treated for a chronic illness (an illness a person may live with for several years, such as cancer) were often advised by their doctor to rest and reduce their physical activity. This may still be true if movement produces severe pain, rapid heart rate, or breathlessness. Research has shown though that exercise is not only safe and possible during cancer treatment, but it can improve physical functioning and quality of life.
Regular exercise is an effective way to counteract the negative effects of inactivity in chronic illness. Too much rest may result in loss of function, strength, and range of motion in the person with a chronic illness. As a result, many health care providers are now encouraging their patients to be as physically active as possible during cancer treatment.
Possible Benefits of Regular Exercise During Cancer Treatment:
We still do not know a lot about the effects of exercise and physical activity on the recovery from cancer and the impact on the immune system. But regular moderate exercise has been found to have health benefits for the cancer patient. Moderate activities is defined as those that require as much effort as a brisk walk.
While there are many reasons for being physically active during cancer treatment, each person’s exercise program should be based on what is safe, effective, and enjoyable for that individual. Your exercises should take into account any exercise program you already follow, what you can do now, and any physical limitations you have. You and your doctor should tailor an exercise program to meet your individual interests and needs.
The type of cancer you have, your cancer treatment, your stamina, strength, and fitness level all affect your ability to exercise. What may be of low or moderate intensity for a healthy person may seem like a high intensity activity for some cancer survivors. While some people can safely begin their own exercise program, many will benefit from the help of an exercise specialist, physical therapist, exercise physiologist, or personal trainer. Be sure to inform them of your diagnosis and limitations and get approval from your doctor first. These specially trained professionals can help you find the type, frequency, duration, and intensity of exercise that is right for you.
To make your exercise effort most effective, it is important that you work your heart. Pay attention to your heart rate, your breathing, and the amount of fatigue in your muscles. If you get short of breath or very tired, rest for a few seconds, and resume exercising as you are able. Start slowly and gradually increase the length of time you exercise. Be careful if you are taking blood pressure medicine that controls your heart rate. Your heart rate will not go up, but your blood pressure can get high. Ask your doctor about this if you are not sure about your medication.
The best level of exercise for someone with cancer has not been established. But the goal is to have your exercise program help you maintain endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, and level of functioning. The more you exercise, the more your ability to exercise can improve and your ability to function can improve. It is common for individuals, who have exercised prior to a diagnosis of cancer, to need to reduce their intensity and amount of exercise during treatment. Even if planned exercise stops, it is better to continue being active by continuing your normal activities.
Things to Consider in Planning an Exercise Program:
Most cancer patients experience a loss of energy. During chemotherapy and radiation, about 70 percent of patients have fatigue. For many, fatigue is severe and limits their activity. Inactivity leads to muscle wasting and loss of function.
An aerobic training program can help break this cycle. In studies, regular exercise has been associated with reduced fatigue, as well as the ability to do normal daily activities without major limitations. An aerobic exercise program can be prescribed as treatment for fatigue in cancer patients. Talk with your doctor about this.
Tips to Reduce Fatigue:
The key is to keep your exercise program simple and enjoyable. Exercise and relaxation techniques are a great reliever of stress. Reducing your stress is a vital element in maintaining health.
Tips to Enhance Your Interest in Your Exercise Program:
Beginning an exercise program can be a daunting task even for a healthy individual. It may be even more difficult for you if you have a chronic illness, especially if you have not been used to exercising prior to your diagnosis. Begin slowly and progress as you are able. If you have been exercising regularly prior to your diagnosis, your intensity and how long you exercise may need to be modified, but many patients exercise during treatment. Let exercise provide you with the benefits of stopping the progression of muscle wasting, reducing the side effects of treatment, improving your fitness, and improving your quality of life.
Remember, only do what you feel up to doing.
Cancer survivors may need to exercise at a lower intensity and progress at a slower rate than people who are not getting cancer treatment. Remember, the goal is to maintain as much activity as possible. Keep it safe, keep it effective, and keep it fun.
For more information on issues of cancer, visit the American Cancer Society’s website, www.cancer.org
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