It is common for cancer patients to reduce their physical activity during and after cancer treatment. It is also common for many patients to experience side effects such as debilitating fatigue, poor sleep, anxiety and reduced quality of life. However, emerging research has shown that the type and amount of exercise will influence what benefits are possible. The most common type is aerobic exercise, anything getting the heart rate higher. This could be walking, cycling, jogging or aqua aerobics.
Generally, the harder you work, the fitter and healthier your heart and other organs become. Resistance training is a type of exercise that promotes muscle and bone health by lifting against force. Types of resistance exercise can be with body weight (squats, pushups etc.), resistance bands or weights. Resistance training is very important for re-gaining strength during a time when there has been a large decline. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise (30 minutes on most days of the week) and two sessions of resistance exercise.
I will write posts on exercise oncology studies by cancer site, today I will go over a few studies completed in patients with breast cancer:
Post menopausal breast cancer survivors improved their cardiac function and quality of life by cycling 3 times a week for 40 minutes in a study in 2008 by Kerry Courneya. A walking intervention during radiation therapy by Mock in 1997 demonstrated reductions in fatigue and anxiety, as well as improvements in sleep quality. Another study by McNeeley in 2006 of patients during chemotherapy showed that aerobic training improved self esteem and reduced body fat, whilst resistance training improved self-esteem, muscular strength and lean body mass. Lymphedema was not worsened in any of these studies, in fact there was even mild improvements in the condition. This is not the first study of patients exercising during chemotherapy and radiation therapy, with more and more emerging every year showing not only that exercise is safe, but there are numerous benefits.
At a recent cancer conference in Adelaide in which I presented a study I ran for patients with advanced ovarian cancer, I met another researcher, Dr Sandi Hayes from Queensland University, who does some amazing work with patients around Australia. I remember she mentioned a quote that really stuck with me that she has used to help motivate patients who are enduring tough times. Some is better than none, more is better than less. Not reaching the recommended guidelines is not the be all and end all, but any amount of physical movement is a start and something to build up on. A 5 minute walk in the morning, 5 minutes at night – not a whole lot, but something to build on. Some is better than none, more is better than less. Remember it next time.