In the past, patients being treated for chronic diseases, such as cancer or diabetes, were advised by their doctors to stay at rest and reduce their physical activities. This guidance proceeds if the practice of exercise causes pain or shortness of breath in patients with a previous history of heart disease (arrhythmias and heart failure).
Recent research shows that exercise is not only safe and possible during cancer treatment, but it can also improve the patient’s physical performance and quality of life. On the other hand, excessive rest can result in functional loss, muscle atrophy, and reduction in the patient’s range of motion.
Check out some of the benefits of regular exercise during cancer treatment:
- Maintain or improve your physical ability.
- Improve balance, reducing the risk of falls and bone fractures.
- Avoid muscle atrophy.
- Decrease the risk of heart disease.
- Decrease the risk of osteoporosis.
- Improve blood circulation.
- Make the patient independent of their daily activities.
- Improve self-esteem.
- Decrease the risk of anxiety and depression.
- Decrease nausea.
- Improve mood and social relationships.
- Avoid fatigue.
- Help control weight.
- Improve the life quality.
Not much is known about how exercise and physical activity affect cancer recovery or its effects on the immune system. However, the practice of moderate exercise regularly brings benefits to the health of cancer patients.
Exercise program goals
While there are many reasons to be physically active during cancer treatment, the exercise program should be based on safe, effective, and enjoyable for each patient. The program must consider previous activities that the patient used to do before the illness and their new limits. Therefore, the practice of activities must be adapted to the interests and needs of each one.
What to consider:
- Type and stage of the disease.
- Type of treatment.
- Physical conditioning.
Only start the practice of physical exercises after release from your oncologist and make sure that the professional who will prepare your exercise routine knows your diagnosis and limitations.
For patients recovering from treatment. Many side effects improve a few weeks after the cancer treatment is finished, but some may take longer or even appear much later. Most patients can slowly increase the time and intensity of exercise. What might be a low- or moderate-intensity activity to a healthy person may seem like a high-intensity activity to some former patients. Remember that moderate exercise is defined as an activity that requires as much effort as a brisk walk.
For patients without disease or with stable disease. During this phase, physical activity is important for the patient’s health and quality of life and may even increase the survival of some patients. There is evidence that having and maintaining a healthy weight, eating balanced, and being physically active can reduce the risk of developing second cancer and other chronic diseases. However, more research is needed to confirm these possible benefits.
It is recommended that former patients take the following actions:
- Practice regular physical activities.
- Avoid a sedentary lifestyle and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after diagnosis.
- Try to exercise for at least 150 minutes a week.
- Include strength training exercises at least two days a week.
Your doctor should monitor all physical activities, so talk to him about your intention to exercise, its intensity, and frequency.
living with advanced cancer
Some level of physical activity can improve the quality of life for patients with certain types of cancer, even if the disease is at an advanced stage. However, this varies with the type of cancer, physical ability, health problems related to cancer or its treatment, and concurrent illnesses. The situation can also change very quickly in patients with advanced disease, and physical activity must be based on personal goals, skills, and preferences.
Precautions for former patients who want to exercise
During and right after treatment
Before starting any exercise program, talk to your doctor. This is very important if treatments are likely to affect the lungs (such as chemotherapy with bleomycin or radiotherapy to the chest area), the heart (such as chemotherapy with doxorubicin or epirubicin), or if you have underlying heart or lung disease.
Know what you can and cannot do:
- Make sure your blood tests are within normal limits.
- Do not exercise if you have anemia.
- If your blood test shows changes, such as low white blood cells, avoid public places.
- Do not engage in physical activity if the level of electrolytes in your blood, such as sodium and potassium, are not within normal limits.
- Do not exercise if you experience pain, nausea, vomiting, or other symptoms that cause concern.
- If you feel tired and unwilling to exercise, try doing at least 10 minutes of stretching daily.
- Avoid uneven surfaces and exercises that can hurt you.
- Avoid exercises that put too much strain on your bones if you have osteoporosis, bone metastases, arthritis, nerve damage, vision problems, balance problems, or weakness.
- If you have problems with numb feet or balance problems, choose the stationary bike over the treadmill.
- Avoid any activity that poses a risk of falling or injury. If you notice swelling, pain, dizziness, or blurred vision, call your doctor immediately.
- Watch for bleeding, especially if you are taking anticoagulants.
- Avoid chlorine pools if you have had radiation therapy.
- If you are using a catheter, avoid water sports and other risks that can cause infections. Also, avoid resistance training that exercises the muscles in the catheter region.
Points to consider when planning an exercise program
- Talk to your doctor about the types of exercises you can do.
- Start slowly and slowly increase your pace, respecting your body’s limits. Even if you can only exercise a few minutes a day at first, you will already feel better.
- Do short sets of exercises at frequent intervals.
- Include exercises that work on strength, flexibility, and aerobic capacity.
- Try to include exercises that help maintain lean muscle mass and bone strength, such as exercising with an elastic band or light weights.
- Include exercises that increase your flexibility and maintain the range of motion in your joints.
- Always warm-up before starting the exercises. And at the end of the sessions, do a stretch, always working your breath.
- Work out however you can. Do not exert yourself while you are undergoing treatment. Listen to your body and rest when you need it