Keep Moving — The importance of exercise in cancer survivorship

Posted by Kaye Holt, N.P.
March 21, 2016

Blog_activeCancerTreatIt is well known that exercise decreases the risk of developing cancer. Studies have shown there is a 25 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer among the most physically active women compared with those who are least active.

This protective role of exercise is noted in many other cancers, including lung, endometrial, colon and prostate. But, did you know exercise is helpful during and after cancer treatment?

According to the American Cancer Society, research shows exercise during cancer treatment can improve physical functioning and quality of life. Moderate exercise can:

  • Increase strength and endurance
  • Strengthen the cardiovascular system
  • Reduce depression
  • Decrease anxiety
  • Diminish fatigue
  • Improve mood
  • Raise self-esteem
  • Lessen pain
  • Improve sleep

Of course, there may be certain issues that prevent or affect a person’s ability to exercise due to disease or type of treatment, including:

  • Anemia (having a low number of red blood cells or quantity of hemoglobin or protein)
  • A weak immune system
  • Radiation treatment

Others should use extra care to reduce risk of injury, including older people and those with bone disease, arthritis or nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy).

There are many exciting studies that show regular physical activity is linked to increased life expectancy after a diagnosis of cancer and, in many cases, a decrease in the risk of cancer recurrence. At least 20 studies of people with breast, colorectal, prostate and ovarian cancer have suggested physically active cancer survivors have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival compared with those who are inactive.

The American Cancer Society, the World Cancer Research Fund, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the American College of Sports Medicine and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services all advocate physical activity for cancer patients and survivors. The American Cancer Society recommends cancer survivors take these actions:

  • Participate in regular physical activity
  • Avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after diagnosis
  • Exercise at least 150 minutes per week
  • Include strength training exercises at least two days per week

Not everyone is ready to head to the gym during or after cancer therapy. However, reconnecting with an activity you like to do can increase your enjoyment and ability to stick with an exercise program. Exercise may include a bike ride with friends or chasing your dog around the park. Walking is a great activity for almost everyone, and swimming can be a wonderful alternative for those with joint issues. Yoga is fantastic for strengthening, flexibility and balance concerns.

Kaye Holt is a nurse practitioner who sees patients in radiation oncology at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wis.

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Comments (1)

This is a great article. Exercising helps develop a positive attitude by getting more oxygen to the brain which helps in many areas. Kaye did an excellent job in covering many points that contribute to good health. Kaye is very knowledgable.

Heather - 04/01/2016

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