Changing Attitudes Regarding Exercise For Patients Undergoing Cancer Treatment
by David Hass
Doctors have often recommended that patients undergoing treatment for cancer minimize their physical activity and get plenty of bed rest, but recent evidence has shown that moderate amounts of physical activity can offer significant benefits for cancer patients. In the past, it was thought that allowing the body to spend large amounts of time resting and recuperating would aid in the recovery process; however, it has now been shown that cancer patients can improve their chances of survival, their quality of life and their energy levels by engaging in moderate physical activity if they are capable.
Exercise for cancer patients should be moderate in intensity, and mirrors the guidelines normally set for healthy adults. Simply walking for thirty minutes a day for five days out of the week is enough to gain practically all of the benefits afforded by exercise. In addition, resistance training may also be useful for cancer patients. Cancer patients often experience weight fluctuations while undergoing treatment; cancers that are hormone based such as breast cancer often cause significant weight gain in the form of additional fat deposits while cancers that affect the integrity of the digestive system can cause weight loss due to the patient not having an appetite or not being able to absorb nutrients as efficiently as they are used to. In the former case, exercise can help prevent the fat gain by increasing the number burned by the patient's body; in the latter case, exercise will help preserve lean muscle mass by actively engaging the patient's muscle tissue during exercise. Regardless of the type of cancer, exercise can help to stabilize the patient's weight and prevent unwanted fat gain or muscle loss.
There have been a number of clinical studies performed examining the relationship between physical activity and survival rates for cancer. The data from these studies suggests that patients undergoing treatment for mesothelioma as well as many other types of cancers may show improvement in their energy levels as well as the quality of their lives by performing moderately intense exercise. Physical activity may help to offset the negative side effects experienced by patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy such as fatigue, nausea and chronic aches and pains.
Cancer patients, like anyone else, should take care to listen to their body while performing exercise. A medical professional can help guide patients on what type of exercise is suitable for them; for example, patients being treated for breast cancer who have had biopsies or lumpectomies performed may sustain injury from doing any exercises that work the upper body, as muscle tissue is often damaged by those surgeries. Experiencing aches and fatigue from performing exercise is usually not an issue, but any sort of sharp or stabbing pains indicate a more serious problem and patients should not perform exercise that is uncomfortable.
The data collected in clinical studies points to patients undergoing cancer treatment receiving a positive benefit from physical activity. It is likely that this will result in a shift in the treatment paradigm in oncology, with oncologists stressing the need for their patients to perform reasonable exercise at a frequency similar to healthy adults rather than suggesting that their patients remain sedentary and inactive.
David Haas is a cancer support group and awareness program advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. In addition to researching the many valuable programs available to our site’s visitors, David often blogs about programs and campaigns underway at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, as well as creative fitness ideas for those dealing with cancer, while creating relationships with similar organizations.