Sweating Back to Health: Exercise and Cancer

Institutes & Services > TriHealth Cancer Institute

Exercise. It's the last thing you want to do when you have cancer. You're tired. You're nauseous. Your head just isn't in the right space. Working out was annoying when you were healthy; now... forget it. However, it may be one of the most important parts of your recovery that doesn't come with a prescription or drafty hospital gown.

For a long time, doctors advised cancer patients to avoid physical activity: 'Relax, and let your body recover.' Now they're advising that it's not only safe, but even beneficial. Moderate exercise during and after treatment boosts everything from your biceps to your self confidence. Here are a few reasons doctors have reversed their thinking:

Obesity and Recurrence

While many patients are aware that obesity can lead to certain types of cancer, they overlook the fact that a lethargic lifestyle can contribute to the cancer coming back. However, recent studies show that increased physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of recurrence and a longer survival rate overall.

Weaker Body, Weaker Immune System

A healthy immune system helps fight cancer and fend off recurrence. Sedentary patients may experience reduced cleansing of toxins from their bodies, weakening their immune systems.

Decrease Fatigue

A little huffing and puffing now leads to a lot less later. Researchers found that even moderate exercise decreased fatigue: patients who walked 15-20 extra minutes a day reduced their overall fatigue by 27 percent.

Lift Weights and Lift Your Spirits

Perhaps most importantly, exercise provides an emotional boost: an increase in endorphins can stave off depression. Other benefits include increased self confidence, improved body image, and possible reduction in cancer symptoms and treatment side effects.

So how do you beat the inertia and take that first step? Set attainable, short-term goals:

  • Week 1: First day, walk to the mailbox; next day, to the corner; and so on.
  • Week 2: Add hand weights to your walk (soup cans make good starter dumbbells)
  • Week 3: Walk, with a few jogged steps mixed in.
  • Week 4: Walk, jog, skip, juggle – whatever keeps you motivated.

Tip: Add a workout buddy for encouragement.

Aerobic exercise and weight training offer the best benefits, but even just stretching will keep you flexible and improve circulation. Of course, before starting any new exercise program, talk to your doctor about how vigorous you can go. However, the most important thing is: just start.

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