By: David Haas
Most people are aware of the health benefits of physical activity. Exercise controls weight, fights disease, improves mood, boosts energy, promotes sleep, sparks sex life, and is often just plain fun. Despite all this, exercise — even going for a short walk — is usually the last thing someone with cancer wants to do, whether they have a common and very treatable cancer like skin cancer or a rare disease like mesothelioma exercise can help.
Coping with an initial cancer diagnosis — followed by the harsh treatment of surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy — can destroy a person’s sense of control. The physical, psychological, and emotional barriers of cancer can overwhelm patients. Cancer fitness programs aim to break the barriers for cancer survivors, giving them back a sense of control. And the research on fitness for cancer survivors is promising.
One Canadian organization, the Alberta Heritage Foundation For Medical Research (AHFMR) has funded research on the effects of exercise on cancer survivors. Led by Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed, the study centers on patients who have completed their last cancer treatment but remain on long-term hormone therapy.
Culos-Reed’s study, which examines patients with breast and prostate cancers, focuses on the relationship between exercise and emotional factors like stress, depression, and personal control, as well as physical factors like bone density. The primary goal is to change the cancer survivors’ lifestyle and improve their quality of life.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), extensive studies have been conducted on the relationship between exercise and various types of cancer. Colorectal, breast, endometrial, lung, and prostate cancers are just a few examples. The research suggests that exercise has a protective effect, reducing the risk of certain cancer types. Physical activity has also been shown to positively affect metabolism, inflammation, immunity, and other factors. Generally speaking, exercise enhances a patient’s sense of overall health and well-being and improves quality of life.
Exercise offers many of the same benefits for cancer patients as for the general population. And it does not matter whether someone is facing highly treatable skin cancer or mid-stage mesothelioma treatment. Mild or moderate activity is possible for just about anyone, and it can help patients better cope with treatment or after-care.
Along with weight and diet, physical activity is a key component of energy balance. It can greatly influence a cancer patient’s ability to fight the disease and treatment side effects. Doctor-approved fitness activities, from cancer treatment center programs to personal exercise plans, can go a long way in giving them back a sense of control and well-being.