Exercise! It’s Important For Cancer Survivors and Thrivers


Yoga On The Lawn With Diana Ross, Breast Cancer Survivors & Family Members.

Yoga On The Lawn With Diana Ross, Breast Cancer Survivors & Family Members.

By: Brian D. Lawenda, MD, Clinical Director, 21st Century Oncology &  www.1UpOnCancer.com.

Almost every opportunity I get, I take the time to sit down with my active cancer patients & thrivers and ask them ‘how are you feeling?’

…The number one thing I often hear is ‘I have no energy’ or ‘I’m tired all the time.’

Although potentially serious causes first need to be evaluated and addressed by your doctors, feeling tired during and after cancer treatment (also known as “cancer related fatigue” or CRF) is often a result of the cancer or the effects of treatment on your body. CRF is one of the most common and distressful symptoms our patients face, and it can persist for months to years after treatment. Did you know that one of the most effective ways to fight and reverse CRF is with exercise? Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

No one knows precisely how exercise is able to help you fight CRF. The most likely theory is that exercise reduces inflammation and free radicals in the body (by lowering levels of inflammatory proteins, called “cytokines”), both of which seem to increase the severity and risk of CRF.

Sadly, many patients and physicians feel that once you have been diagnosed with cancer there is no point in focusing on starting healthful lifestyle habits (i.e. smoking cessation, eating healthfully, weight loss if overweight, etc.)…after all, the ‘damage has already been done’, right?

NOT TRUE. Increasingly, researchers are proving that this fatalistic approach is absolutely wrong, particularly when it comes to not getting adequate physical activity.

Studies show that physical activity not only improves your overall health, but can reduce your risk of a cancer recurrence (or even dying from cancer) after treatment.

How many of your doctors have told you about the remarkable effects of exercise in fighting cancer? My guess is not many. You might want to inform them that credentialed research has found that by simply walking 3-4 total hours per week a breast cancer thriver can reduce their risk of a recurrence by up to 60%; this risk reduction is not unique to breast cancer.

An added benefit of exercise is that it will reduce your risk of developing future cancers. Unfortunately, just because you’ve had one cancer doesn’t mean you are out of the woods for developing a different one in the future. I have treated too many patients who have had more than one cancer in their lifetime.

While we are still learning exercises’ role in reducing the development, growth or recurrence of cancer, it seems that at least some of the anti-cancer effects have to do with numerous beneficial hormonal, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative changes that occur in the body from exercise and weight loss.

How much exercise do you need?

The majority of experts recommend that your goal be to get at least 150 minutes each week (30 minutes per day, 5 days per week) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. brisk walking) and at least 2-3 sessions of strength training per week (i.e. weights, resistance exercises.)

New information has come out recently that is also important to know: it’s not enough to only be physically active just once a day for 30 minutes.

We now know that the amount of time we spend each day being inactive (i.e. watching TV, sitting for prolonged periods of time) also increases our risk of cancer growth, recurrence, and death. So, at the very least, get up and do something active every hour.

The health benefits of physical activity extend well-beyond cancer:

  • Reduced risk of dying early from other medical conditions
  • Improved quality of life
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved muscle strength and flexibility
  • Improved bone density
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Improved immune function
  • Reduced stress, anxiety and depression

Need motivation to get your activity levels up?

I’m a big fan of using a gadget called a “pedometer.” You can clip these to your

waist or wear them on your wrist, and they will count the steps or activity you do through the day. Studies show that most people think they are far more active than they actually are. Using a pedometer is enlightening, as it doesn’t lie. When a person wears a pedometer, researchers have found that activity increases by over 25%. To maintain healthful fitness levels, a goal of 10,000 steps (approximately 5 miles) per day is recommended.

It is smart to be cautious before starting an exercise regimen if you’ve had cancer as you may have new treatment-related side effects or limitations (i.e. lymphedema, neuropathy, limitations in range of motion.) That said, most experts agree that exercise is very safe during and after treatment as long as you are careful. If you have any questions or concerns about what kind of exercise is appropriate and safe for you, discuss this with your doctors. You may also want to work with a fitness professional (i.e. trainers, therapists, cancer rehabilitation programs) to help design an exercise program specifically tailored to you. Make sure that you investigate their credentials first, as it is important that they have experience working with clients who have a history of cancer.

So, what are you waiting for… just do it!

Available Exercise Resources For Breast Cancer:
Restorative Yoga For Breast Cancer Recovery: Gentle Flowing Yoga For Breast Health, Cancer Related Fatigue and Lymphedema Management

Founder of  1UpOnCancer.Com

Rachel Pappas is breast cancer survivor. She is the founder of www.1UpOnCancer.com. And the author of Hopping Roller Coasters, which tells the story of her and her daughter, both diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

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  1. […] Breast Cancer Yoga Staff. An anti-cancer lifestyle is a lifestyle that includes a variety of exercise, organic foods and clean pure water and air. There are a few easy steps to keep the body safe and […]

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