Cancer Treatment & Exercise
8/08 In a recent Canadian study, 94 percent of women who walked five days a week were able to continue working throughout their treatment, as opposed to just 81 percent of those who exercised only when they felt up to it.
When To Start
When can you start? As soon as your doctor gives you the green light. If surgery hasn't affected your active lung capacity or balance, you may be ready to start a light exercise program in a few weeks. Ask your doctor about limits or restrictions on your physical activities.
Use common sense
There is no "one size fits all" with cancer. Your exercise program should be based on your individual needs and abilities. Are you able to isolate muscle groups? Can you do abs without flexing your chest? If your energy is low, don't try to do intense aerobic exercise; low-level activity is best to create more energy. If you are nauseous or dizzy, don't exercise. If you've never exercised on a regular basis, it's particularly important to start in a structured environment with supervision.
What to Do
Exercises that mimic daily functional activity are good to start with. Depending on the affected areas, walking, stairs, pushing and pulling are all beneficial. Lower body exercises such as squats and lunges are also good. No matter what you decide to do, consult your physician before starting your exercise program.
Walking. Walking is an excellent exercise for people with cancer because it increases lung function, stimulates bone growth, and strengthens leg and back muscles. Although a metastasis to the legs, back or pelvis bone rules out running, it may not rule out walking since walking does not jar the joints. Walking in a swimming pool is especially gentle and it still stimulates the heart and lungs, building endurance.
Swimming. When walking is painful because of metastasis to the spine, hip or pelvis, swimming can be a good substitute. It is not as stressful to the body, and if you swim far and fast enough, you will increase your aerobic capacity. Swimming's major advantage is that it stretches the muscles, including those of the rib cage, which increases the amount of air you can inhale and exhale. Swimming also strengthens your muscles as your body moves against the water's resistance without any jarring motions.
Strength training. Lifting weights or working out with weight resistance machines is sometimes recommended for people with cancer because the repetitive movements against resistance help build muscle. However, the more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn, so close supervision and weight monitoring are important to make sure your increased calorie needs don't exceed the number of calories you are able to consume. Some experts feel that weight resistance machines are safer than free weights because they are more easily controlled. If you have never done strength training before, work with an experienced trainer who understands the needs and limitations of a person with cancer.
Yoga and stretching. Yoga's gentle movements are designed to extend and tone muscles that have become shortened as a result of lengthy periods of inactivity, such as prolonged bed rest after surgery. Stretching promotes flexibility, relieves muscle tension and stiff joints, and increases blood circulation. Well-stretched muscles are also less vulnerable to injury than tight ones and require less energy and effort to move.
In addition, yoga and deep breathing exercises can help you relax and alleviate the anxiety brought on by a cancer diagnosis and treatment. The poses are easily adaptable to your specific needs with the help of an experienced instructor. For instance, with breast cancer, you would not want to do any weight bearing on the arms. Standing and balancing poses such as 'warrior,' 'tree,' 'mountain' and 'triangle' are good for beginners.