In general, we all agree that exercise is good for us. But it might surprise some that just by being sufficiently physically active you are significantly less likely to develop many cancers. In fact, exercise is particularly potent in preventing colon, breast, and prostate cancers by 40-50%. These types of cancer account for the most deaths of Canadians only behind lung cancer. But what about exercise when you have cancer?
A diagnosis of a serious medical condition will usually make us prioritize our health and take action to improve recovery. Sufficient mental and physical rest is key for optimal recovery from any health condition. Many of us may avoid exercise during these times to avoid further stressing our bodies, but when it comes to a cancer diagnosis this may not be the best approach.
It is absolutely true that exercise does stress the body, which demands resources from the body to recover, BUT there are significant risks involved in being sedentary whether you are recovering from a health condition or not. Our bodies NEED regular movement for optimal functioning of many systems and also on a cellular level. Common effects of treatment for cancer include fatigue, reduced range of motion, depression, tissue wastage, pain, loss of appetite, nerve damage, poor body temperature regulation, nausea and reduced quality of life. Regular exercise and rest are things that almost all patients can do alongside treatment to minimize these effects and maximize health outcomes.
Some individuals may be able to continue safely being just as active as before, but it is important to realize that not everyone can (nor should) start going to the gym every other day. Everyone is different. Here are some examples:
- In some cases an individual’s immune system may be significantly compromised from other treatments like chemotherapy, so a gym with many people around may not be the most appropriate environment at this time.
- Those with cancer affecting bone may not be wise to start running immediately,
- If you have lung cancer you may need to be more conscious of the intensity of the exercise.
- Someone experiencing peripheral neuropathy (damaged and reduced function in nerves usually in the extremities of the body) from chemotherapy or radiation therapy may not see as much recovery in their balance just by standing on a Bosu ball each day than if they performed more specific balance exercises.
- During hormone therapy for the treatment of prostate cancer, strength exercises become a higher priority than usual because of the effects of higher estrogen and extremely low testosterone in the body during treatment.
These and many other factors may need to be taken into account and ideally, the individual has support to choose the right exercise for them.
It can be useful at this time to seek advice from an exercise specialist like a certified Exercise Physiologist to guide you in developing a program that finds a balance between recovery and safe targeted exercise.
We have worked with many clients dealing with a range of cancers to improve their health and during remission to deal with the side effects of cancer treatments. Here at BodaHealth, we consult with individuals on how to do the exercise that’s right for them. We also provide personalized one on one therapeutic exercise sessions in the clinic with a range of functional and rehab-specific exercises including Pilates, Yoga, and assisted stretching among others.
If you or someone you know is interested in guidance for exercise to prevent treat or recover from many of the effects that occur during cancer, please feel free to contact BodaHealth.