If you are facing a cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, it can feel like your world has turned upside down as regular routines take a backseat to doctor visits and side effects.
But experts agree that it’s important to maintain self-care, and that includes making time for physical activity.
Nichole Andrews, a registered dietitian and cancer nutrition specialist who works with patients and survivors in Kennewick, Wash., is a strong advocate of exercising as much as possible during treatment.
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“Cancer can challenge the body, but exercise strengthens the spirit, reinforcing that people can actively contribute to their own recovery and hope for a better tomorrow,” she told Fox News Digital.
“Exercising during cancer treatment offers a myriad of significant benefits that span physical, emotional and psychological aspects,” he added.
Andrews shared some key benefits.
regular physical activity can help regulate sleep patterns, ease insomnia and promote restorative sleep, Andrews said.
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“This improvement in sleep quality can contribute to better overall health and energy to attend and recover from each treatment cycle or modality, which offers better treatment outcomes,” she told Fox News Digital.
Better quality of life
Practicing exercise routines can improve mood, increase energy levels and provide a sense of accomplishment, which in turn leads to a better quality of life and a more positive outlook on the cancer journey, said the expert. .
“Exercise programs tailored to an individual’s needs can help maintain mobility and independence, allowing them to continue with daily activities and routines,” he added.
Reduced risk of future illnesses
Consistent exercise has been linked to a decreased risk of developing other types of cancer, offering an additional layer of protection beyond the current diagnosis, Andrews said.
“The practice of physical activity can also reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, which can be made worse during cancer treatment,” she added.
Prevention of muscle loss
Exercise helps prevent muscle wasting and can help build strength, Andrews said.
“This is particularly important because cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can sometimes lead to muscle atrophy,” she noted.
“Balance exercises are vital in preventing falls, especially for seniors undergoing cancer treatment,” said Andrews.
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“These exercises can minimize the risk of injuries and fractures.”
Reduced risk of depression and anxiety
Physical activity releases endorphins, which act as natural mood elevators.
“Regular exercise can also reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety often associated with cancer and its treatment”.
Prevention of weight gain and obesity
“Exercise is key to preventing weight gain and obesityboth associated with an increased risk of cancer and can also complicate cancer treatment,” said the doctor.
Greater treatment effectiveness
“Exercise can increase the effectiveness of cancer treatments, making them more efficient at targeting and destroying tumor cells,” said Andrews.
Regular physical activity can also contribute to faster recovery and reduce the length of hospital stay, she added, helping patients return to their normal lives sooner.
“Regular exercise can also reduce the occurrence and severity of physical side effects associated with cancer treatment, including fatigue, neuropathy, lymphedema, osteoporosis and nausea,” said Andrews.
Better survival rates
“For specific types of cancer, such as breast cancer and colorectal cancer, studies have shown that regular exercise can improve survival rates, potentially increasing life expectancy,” said Dr.
Types of exercises to do
Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is any type of exercise that increases your heart rate.
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“This strengthens the body’s heart and lungs and can help you feel less tired during and after treatment,” Andrews said.
“Walking is an easy, low-impact way to get cardio, increase blood flow, and provide a natural energy boost,” she said. “For example, your healthcare team might suggest walking 40 to 50 minutes three to four times a week at a moderate pace.”
Gentle stretching exercises and yoga poses also help improve flexibility and reduce muscle tension while making you feel more relaxed and energized, Andrews noted.
Strength training, or resistance training, is important to prevent muscle loss, which often happens when a person is less active during cancer treatment and recovery.
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“Strength training helps maintain and build muscle mass, which can help improve balance, reduce fatigue, and make it easier to carry out daily activities,” Andrews said.
“It can also help fight osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones that some cancer treatments can cause.”
Light exercise with resistance bands can help maintain muscle strength and increase energy, she said.
“These exercises can be done sitting or standing and are customizable to your fitness level.”
Andrews also suggests practicing deep breathing exercises to increase oxygen levels, alertness, and mental focus.
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If you have access to a pool, swimming can be an excellent low-impact exercise, Andrews noted.
“The buoyancy of the water reduces stress on your joints while providing a full-body workout,” she said.
Tips for staying safe
If you’re experiencing side effects from cancer or its treatment, Andrews said it’s crucial to prioritize safety when exercising. This may mean modifying your exercise plan as needed.
“Your well-being is paramount and adapting your exercise plan to your unique circumstances is a responsible approach.”
If you’re just starting out with post-diagnosis exercises, Andrews said gradual progression is best.
“Start your exercise regimen gradually, even if you were physically active before your cancer treatment,” she advised. “Slowly increasing your activity level can prevent injury and help you stay motivated.”
Choosing a safe environment is also key, she said.
“If your immune system has been weakened by treatment, avoid crowded gyms where germs can spread easily,” Andrews said.
“Consider training indoors or outdoors, especially in favorable weather conditions.”
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It’s always important to listen to your body and pay attention to the signals.
“If your energy is low, adjust the duration and intensity of your exercise until you start to feel better,” Andrews advised.
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Before starting an exercise program, she said to share it with your oncology team in case doctors have more recommendations.
Andrews added, “Your well-being is paramount and adapting your exercise plan to your unique circumstances is a responsible approach.”
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