Physical Activity and Cancer
Undoubtedly, you have read or heard about the benefits of regular exercise. You may even be aware of the association between physical activity (which includes exercise) and attenuating risk factors for disease. However, until recently, most people dealing with cancer were told to rest and avoid exercise. This is contrary to the advice given by Kathryn Schmitz, Ph.D. of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine who states the message should be to avoid inactivity. In fact, new cancer research has suggested that Lance Armstrong’s training regimen may have aided his recovery (what an amazing recovery!) and has resulted in new exercise and cancer guidelines that urge cancer patients to be as physically active as possible during and after their treatments.
Exercise boosts energy, helps manage weight, and improves emotional well-being.
Most of us are not in the elite athlete category with Lance Armstrong, and the last thing someone dealing with the physical and psychological impact of cancer wants to hear is “exercise more.” However, experts are now suggesting that exercise may provide very positive benefits, such as boosting energy, managing weight, and improving emotional well-being. It should also be noted that exercise continues to provide disease prevention for heart disease and type II diabetes during and after cancer treatment. The question is, how much exercise is enough? And, what type of exercise will provide the most benefit?
How much exercise is enough?
The short answer is even a small amount of movement, for example a short 10-minute walk, is better than no activity. Research indicates that individuals who participated in low to moderate intensity physical activity, such as walking or cycling, 2 to 3 days a week experienced less fatigue during cancer treatments. Additionally, the minimum physical activity recommendation for the general public of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, which works out to be about 20 minutes a day, has been deemed appropriate for cancer patients. Research has shown that participating in daily moderate intensity physical activity reduces stress and aids the immune system. Although more research is needed on the effects of resistance training for cancer patients, experts agree there are definite benefits, particularly for addressing muscle atrophy, bone mineral density, body composition, and insulin resistance.
The more complex answer depends on the specific type of cancer, the level of fitness prior to diagnosis, and the physical and emotional state of the individual on any given day. If someone is already physically active prior to diagnosis, the general consensus is to maintain that regular exercise routine as much as possible. Of course, it is best to seek the advise of a health care professional before embarking on a new exercise program, and to inquire about individual exercise recommendations. An appropriate exercise program should be tailored to the individual’s diagnosis and tolerance for physical activity. Working with clinicians and health fitness professionals that monitor individual responses to activity will allow for proper and safe exercise progression and avoid injuries.
The bottom line – avoid inactivity
Although you personally may not be dealing with cancer, you may have a loved one, family member, or dear friend that needs your support and encouragement to remain or become physically activity. Suggest a hike or a walk around the neighborhood. Spend the afternoon playing Frisbee, or an evening dancing. The bottom line is to avoid inactivity. Even a small amount of physical activity can improve fatigue, emotional well-being, and quality of life.
CNN Health (2010) Cancer? More exercise, not less, may be best. http://articles.cnn.com/2010-06-12/health/cancer.exercise.health_1_cancer-patients-cancer-and-exercise-acsm?_s=PM:HEALTH
Nation Cancer Institute. U.S. National Institutes of Health. Physical activity and cancer. www.cancer.gov
thedailytimes.com. (2010). Cancer patients can reap benefits of exercise.