Exercising Cancer

The Benefits of Exercise for Cancer Recovery

With 1 out of every 4 Canadians dying from cancer after diagnosis, preventative methods for the onset or re-occurrence of cancer are critical. Much of our attention is focused on healthy lifestyle choices to prevent diseases like cancer. However, for those who have been diagnosed with cancer, what role does exercise play in their recovery and survivorship thereafter? Recent research suggests that exercise should be a vital a component in a cancer patient’s life, much like that of the role of exercise in persons recovering from heart attack or stroke. Research points to moderate intensity exercise having positive affects on the immune system of cancer patients actively involved in treatment as well as survivors.

Exercise Guidelines for Cancer Patients

Recommended guidelines for cancer patients include exercising at a low to moderate intensity (30-75%) aerobically two times per day on three days of the week. Try two short sessions of walking for 5-10 minutes per day. Walking is encouraged as it improves gait, coordination, and balance. Strength exercises can be performed with light free weights or tubing twice a week in a circuit style, and passive range of motion stretches should be done twice daily.

There are limitations to exercise for those who experience pain, loss of flexibility, nerve damage, scarring, or muscle soreness as an outcome of certain cancer treatments, and special guidelines for exercise should be followed. For women recovering from breast cancer and experiencing lymphedema in the upper extremity, performing upper extremity exercises at a low to moderate intensity is beneficial. However it is recommended that a compressive sleeve is worn while performing these exercises.

Maintaining Fitness Level

Generally, the objective for Cancer patients should be to maintain their level of endurance, strength, and function, and for Cancer survivors, try to return to your former level of fitness (assuming you were not previously living a sedentary life). For those who are new to exercise, the American Cancer Society recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise on 5 days of the week for cancer survivors, as a physically active lifestyle will significantly reduce your risk for recurrence and death from cancer.