Staying active


Getting plenty of rest when you’re undergoing cancer treatment can help in your recovery, but adding some physical activity during and after cancer treatment can be extremely beneficial to your mind, body and soul.

why exercise?

According to the latest guideline from the American College of Sports Medicine is that cancer survivors should avoid inactivity, even if undergoing treatment. [1] When carefully monitored, exercise is a safe and powerful tool to improve your fitness and overall quality of life. 


Quoting Kerry Corneya, PhD, professor and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Cancer at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, she says – “Several recent studies suggest that higher levels of physical activity are associated with a reduced risk of the cancer coming back, and a longer survival after a cancer diagnosis.” [2]


There are more reasons to get in a little exercise and stay active during and after treatment than being completely inactive. The common benefits of staying active during and after cancer treatment are: 

  • Helps combat fatigue. Fatigue is the most common side-effect of cancer treatment and cannot be relieved by rest. Doing some low-intensity exercise in shorter, more frequent sessions can help manage fatigue (unless you have severe anaemia).
  • Helps lower the risk of lymphedema (swelling caused by build-up of lymph fluid). Having regular exercise early in treatment can help reduce the severity of the condition and symptoms. 
  • Strengthen muscles and bones, and improve circulation.
  • Help you maintain and achieve a healthy weight. 
  • Boosts energy levels and improve your mood.
  • Helps improve mobility and balance. 
  • Helps prevent problems caused by long-term bedrest such as stiff joints, weak muscles, breathing problems, constipation, fragile skin, poor appetite and low moods.
  • Help you cope with stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Improve your appearance and self-esteem. 

When to Start Exercising?

Every person’s condition and physical ability are different. Speak with your doctor before starting an exercise programme especially if you are experiencing any persistent treatment-related side effects, such as lymphedema (swelling caused by a build-up of lymph fluid), shortness of breath, nerve damage, skin irritation, fatigue or pain. 


Some days may be more difficult than others, but even a few minutes of exercise a day is better than no exercise at all. Coming up with an exercise plan for the good days as well as bad days when you’re experiencing strong side effects will help you keep focused on staying active. 


Consider keeping a record of your physical activity and your condition on those days. This information will help your doctor or exercise professional recommend the best exercise program for you.

Types of Exercise During Cancer Treatment 

    The following types of exercises can help cancer patients:

    Flexibility Exercises (stretching) 

    Stretching is important to help you keep moving and maintain your mobility. If you’re not ready for a more vigorous exercise, you should at the very least stay flexible.


    Aerobic Exercise

    Any exercise that will increase your heartrate such as brisk walking, jogging or swimming will help burn calories and help you maintain a healthy weight.


    Resistant Training

    Through cancer treatment, many people may lose muscle mass. Lifting weights or isometric exercises can help you build muscle and improve your physical strength. Isometric exercises are a type of strength training and low-impact exercise in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction. 


    Safety Tips For Exercising With Cancer

    Tell someone 

    Keep friends or family informed if you’re going out to exercise. Bring a phone with you in case you need to call for assistance if you’re feeling fatigued.


    Start slowly

    When starting any new exercise program, start slowly and gradually increase your activity accordingly to your physical ability and condition.


    Choose the right activities for your condition

    Some cancer patients may experience skin irritation due to radiation therapy. Avoid activities that can further aggravate the skin, such as swimming because chlorine in the pool can irritate your already fragile skin. Dress in comfortable clothing to minimise fabric rubbing. If you have had hormone treatments, you may have an increased risk of fractures. Therefore it would be best to avoid any high-impact activities and contact sports such as running and jumping. For patients undergoing chemotherapy, your immune system may be compromised and it would be best to avoid any activity that can increase your risk of infection such as swimming. 


    Wear protective garments

    If you’ve had breast cancer surgery, don a surgical bra or Can-Care Post-Op Bra which will help keep your bandages in place while you’re moving about. Wearing a compression garment such as the Can-Care Compression Arm Sleeves [link to product page] during exercise can help increase lymph and blood flow. [3]

     

    Watch out for symptoms and warning signs

    It’s perfectly normal to get sore muscles after exercise especially if you have been inactive for a long time. The soreness will normally dissipate after a few days. If it doesn’t go away, speak with your doctor. Other symptoms and warning signs [4] to look out for are:

    • Pain or pressure in your chest or pain down your arms.
    • Severe shortness of breath. 
    • Dizziness or fainting. 
    • Irregular or unusually rapid heartbeat. 
    • Nausea and/or vomiting
    • Extreme weakness or extreme fatigue

    If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, stop the activity immediately and seek medical assistance.


    Take It One Day At A Time

    Having gone through cancer treatment, your body would have been through a lot and it’s important to take things slowly and build your strength gradually. Unless you were already a very active person prior to undergoing cancer treatment, you shouldn’t expect to push yourself too hard or too much, too quickly.The key is to set yourself small achievable goals and build on your successes. Try to find an activity that you enjoy or pair up with an exercise buddy with a similar fitness level to help motivate each other. Whatever you do, don’t be discouraged. Take things one day at a time. Start slowly and build your body’s strength and energy over time.


    Citations 

    1) Exercising During Treatment(http://www.aicr.org/patients-survivors/during-treatment/exercising-during-treatment.html) 

    2) Exercise For Cancer Patients: Fitness After Treatment(https://www.webmd.com/cancer/features/exercise-cancer-patients#1) 

    3) Physical Activity During & After Treatment(https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/information-support/facing-breast-cancer/living-beyond-breast-cancer/your-body/physical-activity-breast-cancer/physical-activity-during-after-treatment) 

    4) Exercise During Cancer Treatment(https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/cancer-information/exercise-cancer/#Treatmentsideeffectsandexercise)



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