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WHY AM I SO TIRED? How exercise can reduce Cancer-related Fatigue

Those living with cancer undergo treatment with many taxing side effects, diminishing one’s quality of life. Treatments for cancer can include hormone therapy, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments. One of the most common side effects is cancer-related fatigue or CRF. CRF is prolonged physical, emotional and or cognitive exhaustion that is not proportional to recent activity and interferes with day-to-day function. Nearly all people living with cancer report CRF at some point; from the time of diagnosis to months or years post-treatment. The nature of CRF is the inability to alleviate it through rest, which is why so many people living with cancer struggle to participate in regular exercise and physical activity.

Regular exercise can help manage cancer-related fatigue. It sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. An overwhelming amount of evidence currently suggests that most forms of health-related physical activity can alleviate CRF during and post-treatment, with some studies even suggesting exercise to be better than pharmaceutical treatments for CRF. This includes yoga, Tai Chi, aerobic training and resistance training; meaning individuals have the freedom to choose modes of physical activity which they enjoy doing.

How does exercise reduce CRF?

– Improves or maintains cardiorespiratory fitness

– Reduces muscle wastage from cancer treatment

– Reduces inflammation

– Relieves stress, improves mood and reduces the risk of depression

– Improves sleep quality

– Improves functional capacity during and post-cancer treatment

– Increases metabolism

Exercise Tips and recommendations:

  • A combination of both aerobic and resistance training is best
  • Stress-relief activities such as yoga are also beneficial
  • For aerobic exercise, aim for 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity per week
  • For resistance exercise, aim for 2-3 times per week, targeting all major muscle groups twice per week
  • Some exercise is better than no exercise
  • Return to normal activity as soon as possible during and after cancer treatment
  • Start slowly and progress slowly
  • Increase duration first before intensity
  • Break up exercise into smaller, more manageable bouts

It is important to consider that some individuals living with cancer may also live with other health conditions. Exercise Physiologists have the knowledge and the skills to tailor exercise programs to suit individual needs and health conditions, both physical and psychological.

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