Exercise during Cancer treatment: Your questions answered.

We all know someone that has been affected by cancer at some point in their life. Many face the challenges of returning to normal life and daily activities after being diagnosed or when in remission. Participating in a guided exercise program during this time may help some people make the transition as easier process to bare. Cancer is a disease which causes the body’s cells to grow abnormally and multiply uncontrollably. The disease can spread and cause harm throughout the body. There are over 100 different forms of cancer, and the disease is unfortunately very common, with over 700,000 cancer survivors living in Australia today.

Is exercise safe with cancer?

Yes! Many cancer sufferers and survivors will often be weary of entering into an exercise program, unaware of where to start and what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Exercise which, is individualised to each person and progresses gradually is safe. There are a lot of factors to consider when exercising, such as physical limitations and the stage & type of treatment, so it is important to consult a professional such as an Exercise Physiologist.

The fatigue levels and location of the tumour can make exercise challenging, and in some cases painful. For example, a cancer at a muscle, known as a sarcoma, can cause pain when using the muscle, whereas a tumour of the lung can lead to shortness of breath. The fatigue levels of the patient are influenced by the type and stage of the cancer, the treatment they are undertaking, and any other conditions they may have.

The stage & type of treatment can also influence how adaptable the body is to exercise, limit movement ability, and cause muscle pain, amongst other symptoms. Some treatments, such as radiation therapy, are cumulative and work over months, and as such their symptoms, such as flu-like symptoms, can also accumulate and worsen over months.

While this may sound like a good reason not to exercise, people that are told to “get more rest” during treatment may see as much as a 25% drop off in their ability to take in and use oxygen to get through the tasks in their day to day life, while patients that exercise during treatment actually improved! And the benefits don’t stop there…

What are the benefits of exercise for cancer survivors?

Despite the considerations for exercise listed above, exercise is encouraged for those actively undertaking treatment, and those that have stopped treatment. Exercise can improve or maintain muscle strength & mass, joint range of motion, weight control, balance, bone remodelling, and general physical function.

Cancer, and its treatment can be extremely tough; physically, emotionally, and mentally and this can impact on the state of mind & quality of life of the person with cancer. Often a person with cancer may feel that they have lost control of their independence as they are told what they need for treatment, and when & where they need to go for treatment. By developing an exercise program that they can perform independently, this person may find that they have regained some control, and improved their quality of life, body image, mood, and self-esteem.

Cancer survivors that exercise may also see reduced psychological and emotional stress, hospitalisations, and symptoms of both disease & treatment; such as nausea, pain, fatigue, and muscle wastage.

What kind of exercise is best?

An Accredited Exercise Physiologist is a university qualified allied health practitioner that can develop or modify an exercise program that is individualised to the patient and which takes into consideration the full medical and physical history of the patient including current treatments and the physical changes that are associated. These programs may be performed under the supervision of the Exercise Physiologist, or independently depending on the goals of the patient, and the type of cancer they have.

Those with cancer should perform a mixture of different training types.

  • Aerobic training may help to maintain their work capacity and reduce fatigue.
  • Resistance training is important to keep strong throughout the whole body and reduce muscle wastage.
  • Flexibility training to increase range of motion in affected joints and decrease feelings of stiffness from a lack of use.

Cancer survivors should also continue to perform functional tasks that they would normally do in their day to day life, such as going grocery shopping or hanging out the washing, to maintain as much independence as possible.

At Beyond our team of AEPs work alongside all of our clients to use exercise as an effective treatment with goals of reaching better outcomes for our patients. This can mean increasing independence, strength, and ability to do the things that they need to do to get through the day. We offer one-on-one exercise sessions, program reviews to assess how a program is going if being performed at home or at a gym. We also offer small group strength class classes to help keep MOVE THROUGH LIFE!

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