5 benefits of exercise during cancer treatment
Traditionally, doctors advise patients undergoing cancer treatment to get significant amounts of rest. But moderate exercise has now become a crucial component in the treatment process.
“Exercise is so important in general, but for a person going through cancer treatment, it can mean so much more for them,” says Ami Jo Hays, certified personal trainer and cancer specialist at the Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill.
Hays says that moderate activity helps cancer patients fight fatigue, makes them more functional and can even boost self-esteem.
The benefits of regular exercise are many but here are five key things that can be improved through movement:
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Improved bone and heart health
- Lowered risk of blood clots
- Improved mood
- Reduced need for anti-nausea medication
Fatigue is the most frequently reported side effect from patients undergoing cancer treatment. Patients who exercised moderately while undergoing treatment reported fatigue 40 percent to 50 percent less often, according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
“Even walking to the end of the driveway and back can help fight fatigue and get you moving,” says Dr. Fariborze Barhamand, hematologist and oncologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.
Exercise in general is a great stress reliever, “so reducing that stress and anxiety for someone going through the most difficult time in their life, can go even further,” Hays adds. “And I am happy to be a part of that healing process.”
Walking, light gardening and taking the stairs instead of an elevator are some options for light exercise. Your physician can also recommend exercise classes designed for patients in cancer treatment. The classes help to build arm and leg strength, but also increase flexibility and lung capacity.
“Flexibility is so important, and I usually work on this prior to strength training,” Hays says. “We want to have a slow progression so that we can build up those muscles and fight fatigue one day at a time.”
The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology for Cancer-Related Fatigue recommends starting slowly and increasing your exercise in stages.
“Everyone is different,” Hays says. “So I work with physicians to create the best exercise plan for the patient.”
Ultimately, the amount and intensity of exercise will vary from patient to patient. Always consult your physician before starting any exercise program.
About the Author
Sarah Scroggins, health enews contributor, is the director of social media at Advocate Aurora Health. She has a BA and MA in Communications. When not on social media, she loves reading a good book (or audiobook), watching the latest Netflix series and teaching a college night class.