If you’ve recently undergone cancer treatment or are currently involved in treatment, it’s important that you get up and get active.
The days of old when you were instructed to sit at home, get rest, relax, and not move are over. Evidence lends itself quite favorably to the ideology that exercise is a great aid in cancer therapy and recovery.
Moderate aerobic exercise around the house or the neighborhood, at the pool, or in the gym can limit the physical impacts of cancer treatment and aid in recovery. It helps increase strength, improve body image, limit pain, reduce swelling, and keep you involved in life. After all, sitting around on your own can be very isolating, and it’s this isolation that could lead to depression.
Sitting Can Only Add to Your Troubles
When you try to recover by sitting down and doing nothing—often for months on end—bad things can happen. For starters, movement is good for your muscles and joints. It allows your blood to flow throughout your body, helping to limit inflammation and pain. It also helps fight against atrophy, which is what increases your risk of injury. As well, exercise lowers your chances of acquiring more health conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cardiovascular problems that are all associated with inactivity.
Another important aspect of exercise when it comes to cancer treatment and recovery is its psychological benefits. Exercise is proven to improve mood, self-image, and confidence—all things that cancer patients or survivors can struggle with, especially if they have lost or gained a lot of weight or lost a body part.
Researchers recommend cancer patients and survivors follow the same exercise guidelines as the general population, which is 150 minutes of activity per week.
Exercise for Breast Cancer Recovery
A new study from the Abramson Cancer Center and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania shows that women who exercise during and after breast cancer treatment experience a number of health benefits. Exercise was shown to give hope (and results) to women struggling with cancer-related pain and swelling, while enhancing muscular strength and body image.
Survivors also experienced benefits when it came to fending off a painful condition called lymphedema, which is a swelling condition in the upper arm that often occurs following breast cancer treatment. It’s a result of lymph nodes being either removed or damaged during surgery.
As far as the numbers go, they make a very strong case for the benefits of exercise as part of a treatment and recovery program. Only eight percent of women experienced lymphedema onset, only 19% needed treatment from a therapist, and notable improvements were made in strength and body image, too.
It should be noted that lymphedema can occur at any time, from days to 30 years after a surgery for breast cancer or longer, but 80% do get it. This study makes a very strong case that adopting an exercise routine is highly beneficial for breast cancer survivors.
Implementing an Exercise Program
If you’re unfamiliar with exercise or aren’t sure how much you should be doing, talk to your doctor or a physical therapist. They can help you come up with an idea for an exercise routine that’s ideal for your capabilities. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise, so getting a tailored program that matches your interests and suits your limitations is the best way to approach it.
You’ll likely be given a program with some sort of cardiovascular/aerobic activity element (walking, jogging, swimming, etc.) in addition to some resistance training (weights, body weight exercises, pool exercises, etc.).
A combination is the best way to give your body the full exercise it needs. Going for a walk around the block or doing exercises you’re familiar with is recommended at first, but if you want to take on something a little more intensive or that you’ve never done before, I’d recommend talking to the doctors you’ve been working with during your treatment process.
Sources for Today’s Article:
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, “New cancer guidelines: Exercise during and after treatment is now encouraged,” ScienceDaily web site, June 4, 2010; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100601124131.htm, last accessed January 5, 2015.
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, “New evidence that exercise therapy, acupuncture benefit breast cancer survivors,” ScienceDaily web site, November 4, 2014; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141104083142.htm, last accessed January 5, 2015.
“Lymphedema,” National Cancer Institute web site, July 30, 2014; http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/lymphedema/healthprofessional/page1, last accessed January 5, 2015.