Regular physical activity means longer life, less chances of recurrence.
"Exercise not only changes your body, it changes your mind, your attitude and your mood."
Cancer treatment is draining on your body and your mind. Physically there is fatigue, pain, balance issues, and insomnia. Emotionally you are constantly battling fear, anxiety, anger and even shame! These physical and emotional challenges rise and fall throughout the time you undergo treatment and sometimes linger even when you are done with the hard parts. Through it all however, consistent physical activity can reduce the impact of cancer treatment on your body and your mind. With rapid advances in cancer treatment, cancer is no longer a death knell in a majority of cases. Patients are living longer and have productive lives with energy and purpose.
"Several recent studies suggest that higher levels of physical activity are associated with a reduced risk of the cancer coming back, and a longer survival after a cancer diagnosis," said Kerry Courneya, PhD, professor and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Cancer at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.
Physical activity is any movement that uses skeletal muscles and uses up more energy than you would in a ‘resting’ state. It impacts several bodily systems including endocrinologic, immunologic and metabolic processes, which in turn can affect the risk for development/recurrence of several cancers. One research study of breast cancer patients found that women who exercised for 2 and half hours per week after they had been diagnosed had a 67% lower risk of death compared with patients who did no exercise. Another study on stage III colon cancer patients found that in patients who remained cancer-free 6 months after surgery and chemotherapy, physical activity reduced the risk of the colorectal cancer subsequently returning or causing death. There is compelling observational evidence for a link between consistent physical activity levels and a relative-risk reduction of between 10% and 20% for 7 malignancies including bladder, breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal, gastric and renal cancers.
Regular physical movement improves blood circulation, and that can support you with reducing treatment side effects including fatigue, nausea, sleep disturbances and pain. Add weight training to a physical exercise regime and you can improve muscle and bone strength! Exercise is not just good for the body but can have a profound positive effect on your brain as well.
“… we saw strong evidence that an exercise program consisting of a half hour of aerobic exercise three times weekly was sufficient to improve anxiety, depression, fatigue, quality of life, and physical function in cancer survivors.” says former ACSM President, Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH professor.
Yes, I know it is hard to muster the energy and enthusiasm to exercise while on treatment for so many reasons but knowing that you can change your prognosis for the better is reason enough to get up and get moving. However, be sure to talk to your doctor/cancer care team before you start an exercise program, even something as simple as walking everyday. Start at a level that is comfortable and build on it. Remember,
"Your present circumstances don't determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start."
Over time, consistent physical activity becomes a part of your everyday life and you will reap the physical, mental and emotional benefits that are vital to your long-term quality of life. The next blog will address simple, practical ways to make exercise a part of your life while on treatment.
Till then, warm up to the idea of getting back on your feet, in more ways than one.