The Role Of Exercise In Cancer Treatment & Recovery

Cancer is a disease of a cell that is characterised by uncontrolled division and growth of abnormal tissue that continues to grow after the stimuli have been removed. Predominant risk factors are lifestyle related which include lack of physical activity, obesity, and smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, environmental and genetic factors. Depending on the type, class and location of cancer there are several treatment options available which can be categorised into systemic and local therapy.

  • Systemic: treatment drugs that spread through the bloodstream to target the cancer cells wherever they may be. These include hormone therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted drug therapy. These have greater side- effects compared to a local treatment.
  • Local: the treatment focusing and targeting specific areas of the body such as breast and skin. Examples of local therapy include radiotherapy and surgery which have lesser side effects.

What are the side effects?

The common side effects include: cancer-related fatigue, decrease energy levels, joint pain, fluid retention, nausea, and a decrease in bone mineral density (BMD), decrease muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. These have to be taken into consideration when starting an exercise regime to ensure safety and appropriateness. For example, the decreased BMD after hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of fractures and falls. This emphasises the need to undertake individualised exercise regimen aiming to improve balance, incorporate weight-bearing impact exercises with novel stimulus. By doing so the risk of falls, fractures or any injuries is minimised.

What happens if you don’t exercise?

When all these factors and side-effects are combined, they create a repeated circle whereby due to fatigue, there is a decrease in physical activity and subsequently increase in sedentary behaviour. This then leads to increase in visceral adipose tissue, increased fatigue, depression, lower self-esteem, limited socialising with family and friends, and further loss of muscle mass, size and BMD.

As from the example above, evidence suggests that supervised exercise training is safe and recommended during and after the treatment has been completed, if only for its beneficial effects on physical and mental health. There are several factors which may affect one’s ability to exercise, including the type and stage of cancer, treatment methods, and current fitness level which is correlated to the fitness levels prior to undergoing cancer treatment.

The benefits of Exercise

The benefits associated with exercise, as shown through research, include increased quality of life (QOL), lower risk of falls by improving balance, increased muscle strength, prevention of muscle wasting, decreased risk of osteoporosis, improved cardiovascular fitness, improved mood and self-esteem, all of which cohesively result in increasing and maintaining independence.

For more detailed information on specific exercises and individualised training program come visit us at Optimum Health Solutions to get you on a path of stronger, happier and healthier you!

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