The Importance of Exercise and Physical Activity

Whether you are recently diagnosed with cancer, currently undergoing treatment or moving forward into survivorship, staying physically active is important. Exercise and physical activity are important in the prevention and treatment of obesity, which may lead to diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. Exercise can also help prevent muscle wasting as a result of inactivity, and may help reduce the side effects of cancer treatment. A number of studies have also shown that people with certain cancers who also maintain regular physical activity have a reduced risk of cancer recurrence. In addition to healthy eating, exercise can also improve your overall fitness and may lead to a better quality of life.

The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer survivors take part in regular physical activity and resume normal daily activities as soon as possible after diagnosis. ACS recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise per week as well as strength training exercises at least two days each week. You should stay as physically active as possible and increase your activity level over time and after treatment.

Many people can start and maintain their own exercise regimen safely, but you may have better results with the help of an exercise specialist or physical therapist. Either way, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program. Ask about exercises you can safely do and any limitations you may have.

Movement and strengthening

Your exercise program should include activities to help maintain your muscle strength. These will help prevent loss of muscle mass that may occur from inactivity. Increasing your muscle mass will also raise your metabolism, helping you to burn more fat. Exercises that focus on stretching and flexibility will help your ease of movement and range of motion, which may also help you avoid injuries. And several lower-body strength exercises can help improve your balance.

Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight

Exercise can help you reach your weight management goals. Some cancer patients who start treatment at a healthy weight may experience weight gain from the treatment itself. Because weight gain from treatment may lead to a decreased chance of recovery, returning to a healthy weight once treatment ends is important.

Being overweight prior to treatment increases your risk of serious health problems, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers. During treatment your priority should be to maintain your weight, but once treatment ends, overweight individuals should work toward reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.

Impact of exercise on mood and energy

In addition to improving your physical health, exercise has also been shown to reduce anxiety, depression and fatigue. Physical activity is also a great way to reduce stress, which is important to your overall health, and is a natural way to boost your mood, offering drug-free relief for many of the emotional side effects of cancer and its treatments.

Rehabilitation and side effect management

Rebuilding strength and flexibility are important for your recovery and to help prevent further injury. Physical activity can also help decrease the side effects of cancer treatment, including fatigue, one of the most common treatment-related side effects.

Other side effects, such as lymphedema, may also be managed with the help of exercise. Certain activities can help regulate the flow of lymph by helping lymph vessels move fluid away from the affected area, reducing the swelling.

The benefits of yoga

Yoga is a mind-body practice that uses specific postures and stretches, meditation and breath control to achieve unity of mind, body and spirit. There is no scientific proof that yoga is an effective form of cancer treatment; however, the proven benefits of yoga – improved strength, lower stress levels and an overall feeling of relaxation – lead to an improved quality of life in some cancer patients. Yoga may also be helpful in alleviating much of the anxiety, depression and distress associated with cancer and cancer treatments.

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