Benefits of exercise during and after cancer treatment

Published 7:10 pm Friday, October 23, 2020

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There are many known benefits to exercise. Moderate exercise is known to decrease pain, improve sleep quality, lessen fatigue, as well as lessen the feeling of helplessness. It is no surprise that exercise is recommended to many people who are actively receiving cancer treatment, recovering from treatment and in remission.

It has been found that too much rest can actually lead to increased loss of bodily functions, muscle weakness and a reduced range of motion. If you are able to moderately exercise without pain, rapid heart rate or shortness of breath, exercise can be extremely beneficial. Moderate exercise is also known to lower the risk of developing anxiety and depression. If one is already experiencing anxiety or depression, exercise can help ease these symptoms, as well. Regular exercise can improve physical functions, increase mood and confidence while also improving your quality of life. One does not need to have a chronic condition, such as cancer, to benefit from exercise. The best part is, exercise does not need to be vigorous in order for improvements to be seen! When exercising, listen to your body and only do what you are comfortable with. Exercising should not feel like a chore. Negative feelings associated with activities often result in loss of participation within a few weeks.

It is important to recognize that not everyone’s exercise plan will look the same. Depending on your age, weight, physical limitations and type of cancer treatment, those factors can impact what types of exercise one will partake in. It is important to customize your plan to best fit your goals, needs and limitations. This increases the rate of success and likeliness that exercise will become a part of your weekly routine. However, it is important to always consult with your doctor before starting something new. Your doctors and nurses will be able to guide you and inform you which types of exercises will work best with your current treatment.

If you previously led a life full of vigorous exercise before your cancer diagnosis, it is important to keep in mind that current exercises may require a reduction in frequency or intensity compared to what you were doing before. Your body will experience many changes while receiving cancer treatment, and this is completely normal. Exercises do not have to be complex workouts that require complex movements and balance. These workouts can be as simple as riding a bike, going for a walk, stretching or doing yoga.

When exercising, it is important to listen to your body and not overexert yourself. Keep in mind that even small amounts of exercise a couple of days a week can be beneficial to your mental and physical health. Over time, you may notice that your current workout plan is “too easy,” and it feels like you are no longer pushing yourself. When this happens, you can slowly begin to increase duration, frequency and intensity.

As listed above, there are many benefits of exercise, but with lower intensity workouts, it may take more time to see these results. It is important to not lose hope if you do not see these changes as soon as you would like. This progression can sometimes be slow, but it will be worth it in the long run. Multiple studies have found that cancer patients who participated in exercise during treatment had a significantly better quality of life over those who had not exercised. During the time of COVID-19 and social isolation, it is more important than ever to stay active and support your immune system.

Find a walking trail near your place of work or your house and walk a few times a week. If you are looking for yoga or strength training, there are many free videos available on YouTube that often include exercises with modifications. Overall, mental and physical health are directly related to one another. A positive change in your mental health can potentially lead to positive changes in your physical health, as well. If you are new to exercise, there are many websites with information about how to get started!

Savannah Reed is a student in East Carolina University’s Master of Social Work program and is completing her internship at the Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center of Vidant Beaufort Hospital.