The Role of Exercise for Cancer Patients
guest post by Melanie Bowen
Fitness can be an important component of one’s cancer treatment whether one is fighting breast cancer or a rare type such as mesothelioma. Fitness not only improves the quality of life but can also help the cancer patient cope with the stress and depression the disease may cause. Some studies have shown exercise to be as effective as medication in controlling mild to moderate depression.
The type of activity a cancer patient chooses will depend upon a number of factors including the person’s fitness level, the stage and type of cancer and the types of symptoms the person is experiencing. For example, some types of cancer can lead to numbness in the hands of feet and a lack of balance, and this will need to be taken into consideration. Each activity and routine will be different for each person so it is imperative to speak with a physician to develop an appropriate regimen.
The cancer patient should get clearance from a physician before beginning an exercise program and consider working with an exercise specialist who is aware of the person’s limitations to design a program. People who were active prior to cancer diagnosis and treatment must be prepared for a lower level of activity than they were accustomed to because most treatments weaken the body significantly.
Many patients find it beneficial to set fitness goals for themselves. Again, this will depend on where the person is in their treatment but it gives the patient something to work towards and it helps the physician track progress. For an athletic person whose cancer is in remission, the goal might be to run a marathon; for someone who is much more ill, low-impact exercise with the help of a caregiver can still have significant benefits.
In addition to the commonly known benefits of exercise, there are added benefits specific to cancer patients. For instance, exercise can help to reduce nausea and fatigue, help the cancer patient remain more independent and keep muscles from wasting. Fitness can be an important consideration even for the late-stage cancer patient as long as a doctor is consulted, because of the effects it has on mental health. Exercise releases endorphins, which can boost the mood and increase relaxation. These specific benefits go a long way for someone battling cancer because the disease often brings depression with it.
There is evidence that the risks of some types of cancers including breast cancer and colorectal cancer can be reduced with exercise. There are also some links between cancer survival and exercise. Fitness can be an important consideration in preventing and surviving cancer, but it can also improve the overall quality of the cancer patient’s life at almost every stage.