Can Exercise Provide Benefits Post-Cancer Diagnosis?

Can Exercise Provide Benefits Post-Cancer Diagnosis?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Therefore, highlighting the benefits of exercise in different stages of cancer – diagnosis, during treatment, and post-treatment recovery seemed important. This is the first in series of articles that discuss not only the benefits, but also the types of exercise deemed most appropriate. Many of you may have struggled with cancer, whether it was your own, or battled by someone you love. The intention for this series is to be informative and encouraging. No matter who may be struggling, or what kind of cancer, the fight is real, and raw, and tough. We are here for you.

A person who is just diagnosed with cancer has a lot on their mind. Perhaps one of the last things they consider is exercise. “Can I survive this?”, or “What will the treatment entail?”, are more likely to enter our thoughts. They might be feeling poorly already, which is what led them to the doctor in the first place. So why are we even talking about exercise?

Recurrence Reduced

Research has shown that the recurrence of some types of cancer are reduced with exercise, so think ahead.  Dr, Jeffrey Meyerhardt, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, published a study in 2006, studying exercise in women with stage I-III Colon Cancer. He found that women who walked 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week had as much as a 50% percent reduced recurrence of the cancer. This is just moderately paced walking, and very achievable for most folks, especially those who are just post-diagnosis, in between treatment, or post-treatment.

General Benefits Gained

Beyond reduced recurrence, cancer patients will glean the same benefits that everyone can from exercise – maintaining lean muscle mass retains strength and vibrancy, strengthens bones, improves quality of sleep, helps with digestion, counteracts depression, and relieves stress.

Consider muscle mass maintenance for a moment. My personal experience with a client battling pancreatic cancer is a testament to how exercise can help a person stay positive and have some good outcomes. During her fight, she had to prepare for several surgeries, among other treatments. Working on overall strength with a concentration on leg strength helped her to be able to stand immediately post-surgery, and go to the bathroom with minimal assistance post-op. Even when she had to come to the gym in a mask for her protection, the support and friendship we were able to give her as a fitness team kept her spirits up.

Another client, diagnosed with breast cancer, worked out prior to her first surgery (she had reconstruction planned as well), and the nurses were amazed at how fast she was able to bounce back. The overall stamina and strength she gained prior to her surgeries with exercise helped her to withstand the rigors of the procedures, and to be functional in between them.

Support System

Exercising in a gym environment post-diagnosis, but prior to treatment, can be safe and help you stay in touch with a support system. Gym staff care about you and your health. Friends that you meet at the gym notice when you’re not around, ask about you, and are generally concerned folks that also care. So even if you can’t do your regular workout, the atmosphere of positivity and seeing other people can be key in keeping your spirits up!

Doctors are Onboard

In the past, when a patient who was just diagnosed with cancer would ask their doctor if exercise would help as part of their treatment, the most likely response would be a dismissal. Most felt that patients could not keep up with a program of exercise during treatment, and doubted that it would make a difference in recovery. Now, though, doctors are well aware of a growing body of literature that consistently reports the positive association between physical activity and tolerance to cancer-related therapies (like radiation and chemotherapy), reduction in recurrence and improved survival.

Next week, look forward to some suggestions for specific types of exercise that are recommended for those just post-diagnosis, to help their bodies prepare for treatment.

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Written by Melissa Abramovich, ACE CPT, NASM CGT, AAHFRP Medical Exercise Specialist at Elite Sports Club-River Glen

Melissa Abramovich went into Personal Training and Group Exercise instruction after successfully losing 140 pounds through healthy diet and exercise. Her desire to help others drove her forward into a career helping others to make healthier choices. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and now also a Medical Exercise Specialist (AAHFRP), helping clients with a myriad of health issues at Elite Sports Clubs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree, and many group exercise related certifications as well.

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