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Exercise during Cancer Treatment

How times have changed in cancer treatment

Historically cancer patients going through treatments such as chemo, radiation, or hormone therapies were told to rest and avoid activity. What we didn’t know was that the rest was only making the side effects worse. Common side effects of cancer treatments are muscle loss, fatigue, reductions in bone mineral density and cardiovascular fitness(heart health) and increased adipose tissue (fat). All the above are also side effects of rest (inactivity), however, exercise has been shown to do the opposite.
In Australia, someone is diagnosed with cancer every four minutes and only one in ten of those will exercise enough during their treatment. Every one of those would benefit from some form of exercise. It is often said, that if the effects of exercise could be encapsulated into a pill then it would be prescribed to every cancer patient in the world and would be a major breakthrough in cancer treatment.

So why is Exercise so good?

As mentioned above, it works against the side effects of the cancer treatment so patients who exercise regularly experience fewer or less severe side effects, have a lower relative risk of cancer recurrence and a lower relative risk of dying from cancer. Patients are also able to cope with higher doses of treatment, which increases their chance of beating the cancer. The aim of exercise is to also help the client remain independent and have a higher quality of life. When cancer patients go through treatment it is understandably a very challenging time for them and the last thing on their mind is exercise. If the person doesn’t exercise while their body is dealing with the treatment, they will start to get weaker in their muscles, bones and heart which can make normal activities like walking upstairs, going grocery shopping, or mowing the lawns much harder. Exercise will aim to prevent this functional decline.

How do I start?

Before beginning an exercise program as part of their treatment plan it is important for patients to speak to professionals since there are specific individual guidelines to follow based on the individual and the type/stage of cancer and treatment. People should be as physically active as their abilities and condition allow. If they are going through treatment, which often causes fatigue, then some days may be harder than others and it is important to note that on a bad day a light exercise session is better than no exercise at all.

What are the guidelines?

The evidence-based guidelines recommend people with cancer be as physically active as their current ability and conditions allow. For significant health benefits, they should aim for:
1. at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise weekly (such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming)
2. two to three resistance exercise session each week involving moderate to vigorous intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups (such as weightlifting).

These recommendations should be tailored to the individual's abilities to minimise the risk of complications and maximise the benefits.

If you have cancer of know someone who has cancer, contact us to find out how and exercise physiologist can help you. We currently offer cancer classes in some of our locations and would love to help you out.

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