Gift From Within


Exercise Is Beneficial For Cancer Patients

By Carol Woodbury, CES

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Most of us have read about the many studies concerning the benefits of exercise to keep us from having cancer, but many have not read about the benefits to people who have cancer and are going through treatments, or those who are cancer survivors.

Cancer is a word that makes most people fearful. Understanding that perhaps 41 percent of all Americans have the probability of developing cancer at some point in their lifetime is a difficult concept; however, this number needs to be understood in the confines of the fact that most Americans are living longer and that many types of cancer now have very good survival rates (60 percent).

What is important here? The quality of the life that people are able to maintain while living with their cancer is important.

There have been a number of studies showing that exercise can help people going through cancer treatment. There is no conclusive study at present as to whether aerobics or strength training is better. However, any exercise is helpful to some extent.

It is common for people who are going through cancer treatment to experience depression, fatigue, muscle weakness, anxiety, stress, body-image concerns, decreased self-esteem, a general sense of loss of self-control, and anemia that will lead to further fatigue, difficulty sleeping, weight change, nausea and vomiting and pain.

Fatigue is an especially distressing characteristic because it does not allow you to do the things you normally do. Sometimes it is so bad that you have a problem just getting out of your own way and this can be further depressing.

According to several studies rest, normally used for treatment of fatigue, actually exacerbates the problem over the long term.

Getting yourself to even think of exercising when you are experiencing incredible fatigue seems unthinkable. BUT exercise will help you to increase your energy level. (Of course you need to speak with your physician before beginning any program. Seek out a professional with experience in dealing with people during and after chemo or radiation.)

Whether you work with a clinical exercise specialist or in a group with a trained professional, you will find that your energy level is increased after the session. This may not happen immediately, but certainly after a few sessions, you should see a change in your energy level.

In addition, exercise will help you to manager your feelings of anxiety and depression and help to reduce stress.

When you begin a program, make certain that the exercise you choose will help to improve cardiovascular fitness as well as increase muscular strength. Use stretching as an adjunct to help to increase range of motion but not as a primary form of exercise.

There have been a number of studies completed that show how important the role exercise can play in recovery physically and mentally and emotionally. They also show that people who exercise seem to have a higher survival rate.

A listing of these studies is included in this article for your review.

The recommendations and comments generated from these studies suggest that exercising using large muscle groups is appropriate, safe and tolerable for most patients.

Exercise should be performed 3 to 5 times a week for 20 to 30 minute sessions building on that time to increase endurance.

In cases where patients are suffering with ataxia or severe neuropathy, anemia, or limited range of motion-seated exercise such as cycling is more appropriate.

In general the American Cancer Society recommends that survivors get back into exercise to improve their physical capacity and reduce symptoms of fatigue.

With breast cancer survivors it is important to begin an exercise regime to get back your upper body strength, keep lymph moving and increase your range of motion. Loss of mobility can be a serious problem with some breast cancer surgeries.

Another means of coping with cancer treatment is with the practice of Chi Kung. This is an ancient martial art that is used to boost the immune system and increase internal energy.

It also helps with strength and flexibility. This method of exercise is being used at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Tufts Center for Aging particularly with patients who are having a difficult time coping with the effects of chemo.

Use exercise to help physical functioning, quality of life, energy, self-esteem and flexibility. In addition to exercise, practicing good nutrition is also important. You may want to speak with a licensed nutritionist about your condition.

Precautions need to be taken with exercise. Your treatment schedule will dictate to some degree when you can exercise. If you any of the following unhealthy responses to exercise or signs of over-exercise, terminate you session immediately: Acute onset of nausea Blurred vision or dizziness Abnormal fatigue or shortness of breath Abnormal muscle pain Pallor/cyanosis Arrhythmias or chest pain Numbness or tingling in an arm or leg Vomiting or diarrhea within 24 hours should be reported to your physician

Contraindications to exercise are: Platelet counts under 25,000 If more than 25 percent of the bone cortex is involved, weight bearing exercise is contraindicated White blood cell count less than 3,000 Sodium/Potassium osmality Kt 3.0 or below, consult physician No cardiovascular exercise 24-48 hours after chemotherapy No exercise before blood draw to check laboratory values Absolute granulocyte count less than 2,500 mm Hemoglobin/hematocrit less than 10 g/dl/25 percent (Hicks 1990)

Good communication between client and professional facilitating an exercise program is essential. References:

Dr. David Spiegal of Stanford University, 1989 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity Durak and Lily, 1998 Coumeya 1999, 2000 Keats et al, 1999 Dimeo et al, 1999 The Physician and Sportsmedicine Vol. 28 No 5 May 2000

www.y-me.org (National Breast Cancer Organization)


Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: Global Perspective , 1997 Spontaneous Healing, 1996, Andrew Weil, MD, Ballantine Books

8 Weeks to Optimum Health, 1997, Andrew Weil, MD, Ballantine Books

The Breast Cancer Handbook: Taking Control After You've Found the Lump, 1998


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Page created on 10 December 2003
Last updated by on 21 October 2004