1 in 2 Canadians will be diagnosed with some kind of cancer in their lifetime. In the previous years, a cancer diagnosis was accompanied by a prescription to rest as much as possible and to limit any kind of physical activity to a bare minimum. Though, that may be the case for some patients diagnosed with the disease, there has been substantial evidence on the benefits of implementing an exercise routine upon diagnosis and in survivorship.
The number of individuals living in survivorship has increased significantly over the years and will continue to increase due to the rise in early detection and new treatments and therapies. This rise in survivorship has created a new challenge of treating the adverse effects of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other therapies. Researchers have shown positive outcomes of appropriate exercise for more contemporary treatment-related side effects like fatigue, neuropathy, bone pain, lymphedema, muscle wasting and cardiac toxicity as well as treatment adherence and cost-effectiveness. The adverse effects may also be accompanied by predisposing factors, such as age and other comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease and obesity which may also increase the severity of these effects.
Australia has been the leader in cancer and exercise researches and has been achieving very promising outcomes from implementing an exercise program to improve the overall quality of life of cancer patients. The goal of exercise is not to cure patients of their cancer, but to mitigate the adverse effects of treatments. Exercise during treatment has been seen to keep or improve the patient’s physical abilities, lessen nausea, help control weight and keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity. After treatment and in survivorship physical activity and exercise are very important to maintain overall health. There have been a small number of studies showing that becoming and staying fit through an exercise routine accompanied by a proper diet may help to reduce the risk of recurrence and sequela; specifically, in breast and prostate cancers. Most importantly, physical activity and exercise are beneficial in the maintenance and improvement of self-esteem, confidence and independence.
Research has found no harmful effects on patients with cancer from moderate intensity exercise. When done properly, regular exercise has helped to reduce fatigue, the primary complaint during treatment, by 40-50%. Exercise with this population should be individualized according to pretreatment aerobic fitness, medical comorbidities, response to treatment and the negative effects of treatment that are experienced. Obtaining your physician’s clearance should always be done prior to starting any exercise routine.
I am lucky enough to be the Exercise Lead in a program called ACCES (Activating Cancer Communities through an Exercise Strategy) in Halifax. Within this program, I prescribe suitable exercise routines to those who have been diagnosed with cancer as well as supervise the exercise sessions. I have seen, first-hand, the results of implementing an exercise routine upon receiving a cancer diagnosis. If you, or someone you know would like more information on this program please send me an e-mail! Remember to discuss new exercise routines with your physician.