The Importance of Exercise in Cancer Recovery

February 14th, 2014 by Dr. Keith Nemec

Cancer is not a new disease. While the types and instances of cancer have increased over the years the disease itself has plagued mankind for centuries. Even though our understanding of the disease has increased many times over throughout the centuries, some old habits and ideas have persisted. One of the most pervasive of these is the idea that cancer patients need to get all the rest they can in order to heal and recover from the disease. Certainly the body and the mind, do need rest during the healing process. But throughout any type of treatment for cancer, the body also needs exercise.

Exercise and Cancer Survival

While prolonged periods of rest were once commonly prescribed for cancer patients, recent studies are showing that exercise is actually a powerful tool in the battle against the disease. These studies have proven that exercise is precisely what the recovering body needs, and the increased physical activity during treatment can result in better survival rates. These same studies go on to show that continued exercise during the remission stages can have a significant effect on recurrence rates, and can greatly reduce the risk of the cancer returning. So, with this in mind, what are the best types of exercise for cancer patients and survivors?

Building an Exercise Routine

Exercise regimens for cancer patients aren’t too different from the regimens adopted by otherwise healthy individuals looking to maintain a level of good health. The purpose of all exercise is to build strength, endurance and flexibility, fluid movement, and that remains true for cancer patients and survivors. Exercise, as a component of cancer treatment, should encompass the following:

  • Lymphatic Exercise – Light vibrational movements done on a rebounder
  • Strength Training – Push-ups, sit-ups, weight lifting, etc.
  • Flexibility Training – Stretching, yoga, etc.
  • Aerobic Training – Jogging, swimming, biking, etc.

These four basic areas should form the exercise regimen for cancer patients and survivors. Optimally, five sessions a week lasting between 30 and 60 minutes should be the patient’s target. Now, as a cancer patient’s health has been compromised it is likely that their energy levels and stamina will be low. So, it is important to start slowly at first, and build up your exercise routine over time. Before long, energy levels will increase, stamina will return, and muscle tissue will adjust to the new training regimen. Fatigue, so often associated with cancer and cancer treatment, will dissipate as the body gets stronger, allowing you to increase your exercise routine to the desired levels.

When to Begin Your Exercise Routine

The best time for cancer patients to begin their exercise routine is the ever present now. Check with your health care provider, but barring any significant obstacles it is recommended that you begin your exercise routines immediately. Again, start slowly and gradually build to the recommended exercise regimen. Exercise is not only beneficial to the healing process; inactivity is actually detrimental for cancer patients. So the earlier you begin an exercise routine the sooner your body will feel the benefit. Again, while the health of cancer patients has been compromised by their disease, the attendant risk factors associated with a regular exercise routine are generally no different than those faced by the general populace. These include muscle soreness, stiffness, and potential sprains. Not to overstress a point, but it is important for cancer patients to begin their exercise regimen slowly, and build upon as their stamina and strength increases. Do not try to do too much too soon.

Maximizing Your Exercise Routine

Finally, to get the most out of your exercise routine it is important to combine it with a healthy diet, cancer fighting foods, and a sensible lifestyle. Transitioning to a predominantly vegan diet will provide your body with the energy and nutrition it needs to both fight the cancer and fuel your exercise routines. Regular sleep habits are also important, and will allow your body to recharge and focus its energy on fighting the cancer.

Exercise for cancer patients is an important part of the recovery process. However, it is important to remember that your body needs time to recover from the stresses of both the disease and its treatment. Begin slowly, and do not overtax yourself at first. Listen to your body, and let it tell you if you are trying to do too much too soon.

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