Many years ago when someone had a sore back, their doctor told them to go home, lie down for two weeks, and then see how they feel. If they were still sore two weeks later, they were told to go back home and lie back down. This was the ‘go to’ advice for lots of different issues. And even after many types of surgeries – long hospital stays, long periods of time on bed rest, and a prescription to NOT do anything that could be stressful.
Well, if you’ve been in the hospital for surgery on your knee, or hip, or back – or you have a friend or family member who has – you know that times have changed and so has the advice. One of the first things the nurse is going to ask you to do is MOVE. This is a complete change from the old school prescription – bed rest and green jello. Of course, I’m not talking about all surgeries and all illnesses – as there are times when rest is mandatory. But what I’m trying to point out is that there’s been a big change from the old ways, and doctors, nurses, therapists, surgeons are all aware that movement is an amazing therapy with a lot of benefits.
So it was only a matter of time (a long time though) when someone had to ask – could movement benefit cancer patients? Could we ask a patient who is newly diagnosed to enter prehab before surgery? Could we ask a patient going through chemo or radiation to put on their sneakers and go for a walk? What about after treatment? Can we have these patients to an exercise class?
Well, someone had to ask, and they did. And cancer patients answered and started participating. And study after study has been completed on how movement, let’s call it exercise, affects cancer patients.
For decades now, there’s been research to study how exercise affects cancer patients. Different studies have evaluated patients with different types of cancer, at different stages, and different age groups. A variety of exercise types have been evaluated as well. Cardio-vascular exercise that gets the heart beating faster and is sustained over a period of time. Strength exercises that use weights, pulleys, or just your own body to work muscles and make them stronger with reps and sets. Studies compared groups of cancer patients who exercised to those patients who didn’t and looked at the results.
So what have we learned so far about cancer and exercise?
First of all, there is A LOT of research, and well done research, with large groups of patients participating at amazing centres, that shows positive results for cancer patients who exercise. And these results can be far reaching. Not only are there short term benefits from starting a cancer exercise program, but continued exercise provides cancer patients with long term benefits as well.
I think the greatest benefit for cancer patients going through treatment is that exercise has been shown to decrease treatment side effects. And yes, this includes fatigue. It seems counter intuitive that exercise can help you feel better when you’re so exhausted you can barely lift your head from the pillow. But done properly, at your own pace, and when you are able, exercise has definitely been shown to be a therapeutic tool to decrease the symptom of fatigue in cancer patients.
Exercise also helps cancer patients with other symptoms too, including nausea that is prevalent in patients going through chemo. I’ll be covering this in upcoming posts, for sure!
What has been amazing are the results from questionnaires that cancer patients have been asked to complete before, during, and at the end of the research studies. These questionnaires help to evaluate what’s called “Quality of Life” and the answers from cancer patients themselves gauge how good or how bad they feel as they participate in the exercise protocols. Research shows that cancer patients feel better when they exercise compared to the cancer patients filling out the same questionnaires who do not participate in a cancer exercise program.
Post treatment, remarkable results have been seen using exercise to fight the long term affects of cancer treatment. These include osteoporosis, problems with balance, weight gain, and cardiac issues that may appear years after treatment. By incorporating an exercise program, that is geared towards your abilities, energy level, and risk factors, you can take charge and minimize these issue and actually improve your heart health, bone health and body composition.
You just have to start.
We also know that exercise is being studied as a therapy to decrease cancer recurrence. This is amazing news, and the research is pretty outstanding to show how exercise works to help the body in a variety of ways that reduce the chance of cancer returning.
This is just a small glimpse of information but this should let you know that exercise is a wonderful therapy for cancer patients. There are benefits to exercising after diagnosis, during treatment, and post treatment for all types of cancers, all types of patients, and at all ages.
If you want to find out more, head to my website and grab the free workbook and take a look at all the latest information on breast cancer and exercise.
Here’s the link.