Today, more than 11 million people living in the US have cancer. The common doctor’s advice for cancer patients has for a long time been, ”Take it easy.” For a long time, doctors assumed that exercise was likely to lead to negative health effects for cancer patients. However, a recent survey conducted by the Macmillan Cancer Support Center has found overwhelming evidence that suggests just the opposite. Researchers carried out the survey, done in a series of 60 studies involving more than 400 health professionals, to look into the effects of exercise on cancer patients. The study shed light on some important benefits of exercise for cancer patients.
For starters, the survey discovered that for cancer patients, exercise is enormously beneficial, and can significantly reduce the risk of death for cancer patients. Breast cancer patients who attained the recommended exercise levels of 150 minutes every week had a 40% lower chance of dying compared to patients who did no exercise at all. Likewise, patients with prostate cancer who regularly exercised had a 30% lower chance of dying compared to patients who did not, while patients with colorectal cancer who exercised cut down their risk of dying by 50%.
The study recommended that doctors who offer oncology consulting services to cancer patients need to undergo a major ”cultural change” in order for them to change their views about exercise for cancer patients. For such patients, exercise should be an integral part of their care.
Experts strongly recommend that cancer patients should begin exercising immediately after treatment. It is common for cancer patients to slow down after treatment due to depression, stress and general feelings of being unwell associated with cancer treatment. Physical activity comes with many benefits including decreased fatigue, improved aerobic fitness, improved muscle strength, and overall improvement in the patient’s quality of life. However, patients should exercise within their comfort zones and avoid over-straining.
Moderate Activity Recommended
An ACSM panel of 13 persons recently came up recommendations for cancer patients regarding the type of exercise best-suited for them. The panel placed its focus on prostate, breast, colon, hematologic and gynecologic cancers. According to the panel’s recommendations, patients should walk for at least 30 minutes for 5 days a week.
The panel, however, pointed out that these recommendations were not a one-size-fits-all type of prescription. Therefore, each patient should have a personal exercise program that suits his or her condition and fitness. For example, patients with gastrointestinal cancer should avoid rigorous weight training, while patients with weak immune systems should avoid public gyms and patients with neuropathy, a condition that leads to loss of sensation, should opt for training on a stationary bike instead of weight training. Yoga is fine for all cancer patients.
• Flexibility Exercises: These are essentially stretching exercises. Experts recommend this type of exercise for all cancer patients.
• Aerobic Exercises: This involves activities such as jogging, brisk walking and swimming. Aerobic exercises help to improve cardiovascular fitness and significantly lower the risk of stroke, heart attacks, and diabetes.
• Resistance Training: This involves activities such as weight lifting. Resistance training build muscle mass and is highly recommended for patients with higher-than-average fat-to-lean mass ratios.
Necessary Precautions to Take
The risk of injury for cancer patients while exercising is about the same as that of healthy people. As such, cancer patients should watch out for common exercise-related injuries such as strains, soreness, and sprains. Cancer patients carry a slightly elevated risk of developing heart problems. As such, they should get approval from their oncologists before commencing on their exercise program.
In summary, health experts highly recommend exercise for cancer patients. Therefore, it should become part of their overall treatment program. That said, patients with heart problems, diabetes as well as obese patients should talk to their oncologists before attempting any form of exercise.