Exercise: Central to Your Recovery Plan
Exercise directly correlates with cancer recovery. The science behind this assertion began with the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, School of Public Health, Queensland University in Australia. Following research, the statement of position was clear:
Causes of cancer are multifactorial with lack of physical activity being considered one of the known risk factors, particularly for breast and colorectal cancers. Participating in exercise has been associated with benefits during and following treatment for cancer, including improvements in psychosocial and physical outcomes, as well as better compliance with treatment regimens, reduced impact of disease symptoms including treatment-related side effects, and survival benefits for particular cancers.
The general exercise prescription for people undertaking or having completed cancer treatment is of low to moderate intensity, regular frequency (3-5 times/week) for at least 20 minutes per session, involving aerobic, resistance or mixed exercise types.
What does such an exercise regimen include? A balanced program should include:
- Breathing exercises. Some people with cancer may have shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. This can keep them from being physically active. Breathing exercises help move air in and out of the lungs, which can improve your endurance. These exercises can also help reduce any stress and anxiety that causes your muscles to tighten.
- Stretching. Stretching regularly can improve your flexibility and posture. It helps increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the muscles, and it can help your body repair itself. Stretching is often helpful if you have been inactive while recovering from cancer treatments. For example, radiation therapy can limit your range of motion and cause your muscles to stiffen. After surgery, stretching can break down scar tissue.
- Balance exercises. Loss of balance can be a side effect of cancer and its treatment. Balance exercises can help you regain the function and mobility you need to return to your daily activities safely. Maintaining good balance also helps prevents injuries, such as falls. Learn more about balance exercises after cancer treatment.
- Aerobic exercise. Also known as cardio, this is a type of exercise that raises your heart rate. It strengthens your heart and lungs and can help you feel less tired during and after treatment. Walking is an easy way to get aerobic exercise. For example, you may assign yourself a walking plan consisting of 45 minutes, 3 to 4 times per week, at a moderate pace. Or 30 minutes every day. Point being, the length of a workout and its consistency is the key.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise for adults. That breaks out to just over 20 minutes per day. Only 20 minutes a day! Everyone, even cancer patients, can walk at a moderate pace for 20 minutes a day.
- Strength training. Muscle loss often happens when a person is less active during cancer treatment and recovery. Some treatments also cause muscle weakness. Strength training, or resistance training, helps you maintain and build strong muscles. Increasing muscle mass can help improve your balance, reduce fatigue, and make it easier to do daily activities. It can also help fight osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones that some cancer treatments can cause.
The CDC recommends 2 days of full body strength training each week. A strength training program can include hand weights, exercise machines, resistance bands, and your own body weight.
Cancer survivors give themselves an exercise prescription. Very few set out to run a marathon or become Olympic athletes. Instead, the most common exercise goal among cancer survivors is to experience an increase in energy. Moderate exercise such as a brisk daily walk or low-impact yoga fulfills this goal. Make exercise part of your cancer recovery program. No matter how long it has been since you have exercised, no matter how incapacitated or confined you are, there are exercises you can do. Exercise will help you get well again. Write yourself an exercise prescription today.