While cancer patients have traditionally been advised to reduce their physical activity during treatment; recent research shows that exercise can slow down cancer.
How this works is not fully understood. But we all know that exercise improves physical fitness and boosts immunity. Studies have also led to the conclusion that physical activity helps in recovery from cancer. So, if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, don’t slow down. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider. Ask for advice about exercising during and after treatment.
In this discussion, we look at types of exercise and possible ways how exercise can slow down cancer.
Exercise Reduces Mortality Rate of Cancer Survivors
A 2013 research study involving mice, found that mice that exercised on a treadmill for one hour daily for five days a week over a period of 32 weeks had a significantly lower risk of liver cancer compared to their sedentary counterparts.
Another study indicates that shedding a mere 5 percent of body weight increases survival rate of breast cancer patients by 20 percent.
And yet another study at Yale University, involving 5000 people with breast cancer; found that three hours of brisk walking per week reduced mortality rate by 46 percent.
Many other studies have come up with similar findings. And yet, even without these cancer-focused studies, it is well known that regular physical exercise helps keep the body healthy. It sharpens the mind, reduces stress, and helps you sleep better.
How Does Exercise Improve Health?
Health benefits of exercise are not limited to certain conditions. When cancer patients and cancer survivors exercise regularly, they set themselves up for the following health benefits:
- Reduction of stress, anxiety and risk of depression
- Prevention of constipation
- Higher energy levels
- Reduced fatigue
- Improved heart health
- Better blood circulation
- Lower risk of blood clots
- Improves flow of lymph fluids which strengthens the immune system
- Better quality and quantity of sleep
- Increases production of endorphins; feel-good hormones associated with fighting disease
- Improved appetite
- Stronger, healthier bones
- Healthy weight management
- Improved balance and posture
- Reduced dependence on others
- Better self-esteem and self-worth
- Increased musculoskeletal strength
- Better quality of life
- Reduced nausea
How to Exercise During and After Treatment
Physical exercise helps during and after cancer treatment. Some therapists advise patients to start exercising as soon as possible following cancer diagnosis and commencement of treatment.
Your ability and intensity depends on whether or not you were physically active prior to the diagnosis. If you have been exercising hard, you may need to slow down a bit. Those who begin exercising during or following treatment, need to start with gentle exercises and to build up the intensity and duration of exercise as your body adjusts. As you commence exercise to help in your recuperation, it helps to consult your doctor and a physical therapist for any suggestions and guidance.
This is even more important for elderly persons and those suffering, or with a risk of suffering from conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis and arthritis.
How Much Exercise Should You Do?
The idea of exercising is to keep your body fit. To achieve this, you need to indulge in regular physical activity. More than 20 studies have found that the risk of cancer recurrence is lower for survivors who maintain a physically active lifestyle. These studies have been carried out on people with different cancers, including ovarian, prostate, breast and colorectal.
The American Cancer Society says that cancer survivors benefit more by doing the following:
- Exercising regularly
- Exercising for 2 ½ hours or more per week
- Continues with, or settles back to normal daily activities as soon as possible following cancer diagnosis
- Adopts challenging strength training as part of the exercise program for two days or more per week
Types of Exercise to Slow Down Cancer
There are many types of exercise to choose from including the following:
- Riding a bicycle
- Scrubbing your bathroom
- Cleaning your car
- Jumping rope
- Stationary bike riding
- Climbing stairs
- Mowing your lawn
- Wearing a pedometer helps you track your physical activity level so that you can steadily increase it
How to Exercise to Aid Recovery from Cancer
Here’s how you can maintain a regular exercise routine:
- Decide what exercises you will be doing
- Draw up a routine
- Exercise regularly
- Exercise outdoors when possible so you enjoy the fresh air
- Include resting intervals in your exercise routine
- Drink 8 glasses of water or more per day
- Choose exercises that you enjoy doing
- Have fun exercising
- Set goals – short-term and long-term
- Vary your exercise types
- Keep track of your exercises using a pedometer or a chart
- Ask your doctor for pain control medications when necessary
- Reward yourself when you reach exercise targets
- Ask for help when you need it
- Enlist your friends in your exercises
Avoid Exercise In case of the following:
- Low white blood cell count
- If you have mineral (electrolyte) imbalance especially due to vomiting and diarrhea
- If you have pain, nausea or vomiting
- Avoid water exercises in case you have an inserted feeding tube or catheter
- Avoid exposure to the sun, of skin undergoing radiation
- Avoid extreme exercises during treatment and immediately after treatment
- Consult your doctor in case of injury, sudden weight gain, swelling, bleeding, shortness of breath after minimal exercise or similar
Nutrition to Help In Recovery from Cancer
Besides physical activity, many studies have found that cancer survivors, like those recovering from other ailments, can benefit from healthy nutrition. Healthy nutrition for cancer survivors should include assorted vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grain.
Here I answer some questions about breast cancer
In case you are overweight or obese, reducing intake of carbohydrate food and drinks will help you shed some weight. Research indicates that being obese or overweight increases the risk of getting some cancers. It also increases the risk of cancer recurrence.
For those who are underweight following treatment of cancers of the lungs, digestive tract or other abdominal cancers, nutrition can be used to regain healthy body weight.