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Posted by on January 16, 2020

The formal guidelines of cancer treatment now include exercise for all patients. In fact, the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) is clear on the directive of exercise for all cancer patients. The first priority of cancer patients is to defeat and survive cancer, and research shows that exercise may be helpful in this regard. Read on to know more about the effect of exercise on cancer.

Role of exercise in cancer

Research suggests that eating right and exercising can help people from getting cancer. Moreover, the latest information from studies suggest it can also help cancer from recurring and keep people in remission. According to Dr. Kerry Courneya, PhD, professor and Canada Research Chair at the Physical Activity and Cancer at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, higher levels of physical activity are associated with longer survival rates after cancer, and a reduced risk of it coming back.


On the other hand, data from another research showed that being overweight after completing treatment was associated with higher risk of cancer coming back and shorter survival times. Evidence showed that women who exercised after completing breast cancer treatment lived longer and had less recurrence. Two clinical trials showed that colorectal cancer survivors who exercised lived longer in comparison to those who didn’t.

How is exercise helpful?

Exercise improves the quality of life of cancer patient. It gives more energy to the patient and reduces stress. Moreover, it is helpful in reducing anxiety, and depression of the patient. The quality of life of a cancer patient during and after treatment improves greatly with physical activity. The general physical functioning of the patient also improves greatly, which might be affected by chemo or radiotherapy and other cancer treatments. Lymphedema—a type of swelling caused by treatment to lymph nodes—has been proven to improve greatly with exercise and can even be prevented through exercise.

Exercise recommendation of the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA)

COSA recommends that physical inactivity should be avoided by the patients, and they should be as physically active as possible. The goal should be to get at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise like cycling, swimming, jogging or walking each week; alternatively, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise can be done. Aerobic exercises burn calories and helps with weight loss. It also builds cardiovascular fitness and lowers the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Two to three sessions of resistance exercise like lifting weights is also a good idea. It involves moderate to vigorous intensity exercises that target the major muscle groups. Resistance training builds muscles, which many cancer patients lose through cancer treatments. A high fat-to-lean mass ratio can be built through resistance training.

A cancer-care team should oversee the training regimen of the cancer patients and should tailor the exercise regimen to suit the abilities and the health status of the patient. The exercise plan should be worked out according to the anticipated disease trajectory.

Flexibility exercises like stretching can also help patients get back into shape. Stretching helps to attain mobility and keep the body moving. Experts suggest that both resistance training and aerobic exercises are ideal for overall health and wellbeing of cancer survivors.

A team of exercise physiologists, physical therapists and oncologists should be responsible for designing an exercise regimen of a cancer patient. This healthcare team should deliver and prescribe exercise programs for cancer patients and survivors. These recommendations should be endorsed throughout the treatment.

When to avoid exercise?

People with certain types of cancer should not be exercising, and in certain other situations the patient should also take extra care. For instance, people who have bone cancer should not exercise as there is a risk of fracture. Patients with peripheral neuropathies or low immunity should also avoid excessive physical exertion.

When to start exercising for cancer patients?

Experts suggest that cancer patients should start exercising soon after cancer diagnosis. After cancer diagnosis, most people slow down; they have an onset of depression, stress and sickness. Moreover, people also slow down from the fatigue of cancer treatment. Thus, people tend to stay sedentary after treatment, and they think that avoiding activity and taking it easy is a good solution to the problem of fatigue. However, they should remember that staying active, and returning to working out will help in the recovery.

What should cancer patient do?

If you are being treated for cancer, remember to include exercise into your treatment regimen. It may seem overwhelming in the beginning, but it is important to remember how vital it is for health. Stretching and strengthening exercises should be started during chemo infusions. Your healthcare team should find something basic and easy, which has been modified to fit your needs, and individualize your exercise regimen.

The idea is that patients should do whatever works for them and whatever they can manage; physical workout will be beneficial for their health and it will condition them to emotional wellbeing.