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Physical exercise

  • Physical exercise improves overall functioning of the body and quality of life regardless of cancer site. Physical exercise may improve and maintain bone density and may promote independent self esteem and decrease stress, pain, nausea, fatigue and depression. Regular exercise affects your hormonal balance as well as most of your body systems. It may reduce weight gain associated with chemotherapy. After radiation and surgery, patients may be given a specific exercise program to help the healing process and prevent further injury as well as increase flexibility.

    What does exercise involve?

    Regular participation in physical activity raises the heart rate and maintains an increased heart rate for a period of time. Depending on your physical condition, and after the advice of your physician, you may begin walking 5-10 minutes twice a day with a goal of increasing activity for 45 minutes to an hour at least three times each week. It is important that your exercise time be without interruptions. This is time for yourself. If you are unable to walk, there are other ways to exercise (i.e., stretching, isometric exercises).

    What has been proven?

    Preliminary research suggests exercise may be effective in improving quality of life in cancer patients. Moderate exercise improves overall health, self-esteem and influences the immune system by improving the functioning of the body’s own natural defense system. Studies have shown symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, depression and how you feel about yourself improve with increased exercise. Light weight training maintains bone density and helps to prevent osteoporosis. During treatment alternating bouts of exercise and rest is a great way to add 30 minutes of short exercise a day even if previously inactive.

    What does this therapy cost?

    Exercise involves personal time. Fortunately, exercise is something most people can afford, but if you choose to join an exercise facility (dance class, etc.), fees vary. Some insurance plans do include a fitness benefit. You should check with your insurance company.

    Special points to remember

    • Exercise in a reasonable manner. Walking and riding a stationary bicycle are safe for most patients. Pay attention to safe activities and have someone nearby for supervision.
    • Yoga is ideal because it is low impact and reduces stress and promotes relaxation.
    • You should wait 24 hours after chemotherapy before exercising.

    If you do want to exercise, it is important to seek approval from your physician as well as instruction in:

    1. Developing a safe and appropriate exercise plan
    2. Periodic monitoring of your heart rate
    3. Signs and symptoms when you should decrease or stop exercise including swimming (i.e., low blood counts) and warning signals (i.e., shortness of breath, pain, stiffness, etc.) all of which you should report to your doctor.
    4. Patients with bone involvement should not do high impact exercise and contact sports.

    Reference: Med. Science Sports Exercise Vol. 35, No 11, pp 1846-1852 

  • Health & Wellness