One of the questions we are frequently asked in both our London medical centre and our Oxford Health Gym is ‘Am I okay to exercise with cancer?’.
Our response is always unequivocal – ‘It’s not just okay, it’s essential!’.
Exercise and cancer care
A recent study by MacMillan Cancer support found only a fifth of patients who have been through treatments are told of the ‘wonder drug’ type benefits of exercise. As such it is no surprise patients are left to their own devices to determine if exercise while they have cancer is right for them.
In all but a few select cases there, increasing exercise if you have cancer will positively impact on preventing fatigue, managing mood and preserving muscle and bone mass. These benefits are critical for both the management of the cancer itself, and to ensure the individual can continue to lead as normal a life as possible, despite the cancer.
Beyond preserving function, the biggest role of exercise in cancer management is negating its impact and stopping its return. Recent studies showed the following statistics in those who undertook regular physical activity;
- 40% lower risk of returning breast cancer
- 50% lower risk of colon cancer returning or dying of colon cancer
- 30% reduced risk of dying from prostate cancer (men).
If a drug could be responsible for such improved health outcomes it is unlikely anyone would leave a doctor’s office without a lifetime prescription!
Exercise for overall health management
It is also essential to note that having cancer does not mean you become cancer. An affected individual still has a cardiovascular system, a musculoskeletal system, organs, hormones, a brain. A person with cancer still needs to sleep, recover, avoid colds and bugs and more. To ignore other essential systems of biology in the face of a challenge on one system can lead to other health problems, even if the original cancer is put into remission. All these elements are significantly improved with physical activity and exercise.
Exercising with cancer, as with all exercise programmes, needs to be specific to the needs and capabilities of the person. Issues around nerve damage, weakened bones and fluctuating immunity are real and mean the dosage and type of exercise must be considered thoughtfully. However, the fear of increasing movement should be offset by the huge benefits to be gained from participation. The cost/benefit analysis always ends with physical activity and its benefits being the winner.
When should you exercise if you have cancer?
If you’re having treatment or have recently finished, it’s fine to start exercising if you feel like it. How much you do really depends on how fit you are generally.
If you’ve never done much exercise, you’ll have to build up gradually. If you do too much one day, you might feel tired and sore the next day. Some days you’ll have more energy than others and listening and responding to natural feedback is key to gradual progression.
It is important that a lack of previous exercise does not prevent you from starting altogether. The Viavi:be sequence is tailor made for beginners making their first steps into exercise. The Viavi:be sequence, created by world leading clinicians and staffed by a team of onsite health coaches, has been purpose built to ensure an easy path to becoming more active and feeling more well. Come and visit today to see how we could help you or your loved ones at the time it is needed most.