Exercise during and after your cancer treatment
Why is exercise good for me while having my treatment?
The unfortunate side of most of the current cancer treatments are the side effects that people will feel because of them. These side effects can include fatigue, loss of muscle mass with accompanying loss of strength, reduced bone density, and nausea. These side effects can then lead to levels of inactivity because people aren’t feeling as well. This inactivity leads to further losses of strength, fitness, bone density and fatigue, which then leads to further inactivity… and so the vicious cycle continues. This cycle needs to be broken and exercise is what can do it. A huge number of studies together indicate that exercise during and/or following treatment prevents decline and/or improves cardiorespiratory and cardiovascular function, improves body composition by preserving or increasing muscle mass and a loss of fat mass, improves immune function, improves strength and flexibility and reduces the number and severity of side-effects including nausea, fatigue and pain and reduces hospitalisation duration. Not only can these physical outcomes be affected, but exercise can also reduce stress, depression and anxiety and improve self-esteem and mood, all of which contribute to improvements in quality of life, and can all be affected during cancer treatment.
Some people may think that exercising may make you more tired, but studies show that those failing to participate in an exercise program during treatment suffer more from fatigue than those that do. Exercising sensibly seems to give more energy than take it away.
But by far the biggest benefits of exercise during cancer treatment is that it was shown that those patients who are exercising also have a higher completion rate of chemotherapy. Another study on breast cancer survivors showed that the incidence of recurrence was considerably lower for those survivors who were exercising.
What type of exercise is best?
Most of the research shows that both aerobic exercise (like walking) and resistance exercise (weights) are useful during cancer treatment. Aerobic exercise is important to counter the effects on cardiovascular function. Walking and cycling are simple examples of exercises to help with this.
Weight training is of particular importance. Not only does it help to maintain strength levels which often reduce with treatment, but it also helps to maintain lean muscle mass. The weight you lose during times of inactivity will not only be fat mass, but also muscle. There is a link between your amount of lean mass and how the body responds to chemotherapy.
One study suggests that the higher the muscle mass, the less a patient suffers the fatigue and nausea associated with treatment. Weight training also helps to maintain bone density which is commonly known to drop with chemotherapy.
How much do I need to do?
There is good research suggesting what is termed a “dose response” to exercise during cancer treatment. This means that the higher the dose, the better the response. One needs to be aware of the symptoms though, as not everyone will feel up to doing exercise as often as they may like. As a guideline, something is better than nothing, but more is better than less.
Many doctors will say that the worst thing you can do is nothing, even if you don’t feel like it.
Our sessions are generally 30min long for people who are having treatment. We feel that this is a sufficient amount of time to get the desired results without creating any unnecessary fatigue. Having said this, some people like to have 45 min sessions if they feel up to it. There will likely be some times when you feel completely unable to exercise based on where you might be in the treatment cycle. What we suggest is to take advantage of the times when you feel relatively capable so that those times when you don’t aren’t having as much of an impact on you.
As for lymphoedema, evidence is accumulating to demonstrate that participation in an exercise program does not increase lymphoedema risk or exacerbate the condition if already present.
Click here to make an appointment or to get more information about how exercising can help with the effects of cancer treatment.