Friday, October 21, 2011
Fitness Benefits Cancer Survivors
After cancer, a slow and steady fitness program can help survivors build a healthy new life. Regular exercise strengthens the immune system, rebuilds lean muscle tissue and helps cancer survivors return to an appropriate
weight. A moderate exercise program that includes activities like walking, swimming or light hiking can help survivors cope with depression, anxiety and fatigue. Exercise also gives survivors the opportunity to build relationships and create a support network around a physical activity that they enjoy.
While cancer therapies such as radiation, chemotherapy and surgery can have life-saving benefits, these interventions also produce side effects after treatment has ended. Cancer treatment often weakens the immune system, reducing the body’s ability to fight off illness. Radiation and chemotherapy may lead to weight gain or weight loss and affect a patient’s ability to enjoy food. Exercise supports immunity, boosts appetite, increases endurance and restores physical and mental energy. When combined with a nutritious diet, a regular fitness
program can help survivors return to a weight that’s appropriate for their health status.
Designing a Fitness Program
The metabolic effects of cancer and the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy can lead to tissue wasting.
A comprehensive exercise program for survivors may include activities that promote cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, stress reduction and muscular strength. An aerobic exercise like walking or water aerobics combined with a light resistance training program may restore cardiovascular fitness and build new muscle tissue. The American Cancer Society notes that weight training may reduce the swelling and fluid retention that many breast cancer survivors experience after lymph node removal.
Yoga and t’ai chi can help restore mobility and flexibility after a long period of restricted movement. These activities promote deep breathing, relaxation and focused attention on the present, all of which may reduce the stress and anxiety that cancer survivors may experience. Weight training, cardiovascular or flexibility exercises should proceed slowly under a clinical professional’s supervision.
Building a Support Network
During treatment, many patients dedicate most of their time and energy to cancer-fighting procedures. After treatment, cultivating friendships through fitness promotes a healthy recovery. An exercise program gives cancer survivors the opportunity to network with old friends and meet new ones. Survivors can participate in fitness events to benefit cancer research or join volunteer programs that enable them to provide support or education to
newly diagnosed patients. There are also support groups for many types of cancers including breast, liver and even mesothelioma support groups.
Cancer survivors should choose activities that they enjoy and build fitness slowly under a medical professional’s guidance. Even survivors who exercised regularly before treatment should start with a gentle, progressive program. Any fitness program should be designed with the help of a physician who has a thorough knowledge of the survivor’s medical history and recovery goals.
Liz Davies is a recent college graduate and aspiring writer especially interested in health and wellness. She wants to make a difference in people’s lives because she sees how cancer has devastated so many people in this world. Liz also likes running, playing lacrosse, reading and playing with her dog, April.