Exercise for cancer: how physical activity can help relieve symptoms of cancer treatment

If you are undergoing cancer treatment you will know that it is important to get good rest and eat well too. However, research has shown that many cancer patients respond well to physical activity too and are better off being active than resting too much. Not only does exercise seem to be safe for most cancer sufferers, but it can provide relief, improve quality of life and function.

Dr Paul Mackarey published a paper in September 2010 showing that exercise can ease certain effects of cancer therapy. Paul Mackarey is a doctor in health sciences specializing in sports physical therapy and orthopedic. He is an affiliate faculty member of the University of Scranton in the physical therapy department. By the way, he also has a useful health and exercise forum that is worth checking out.

Nausea can be a problem with some cancer treatments. The nausea in turn can lead to a lack of appetite that can contribute to muscle weakness, a lack of energy and bone loss. It's a vicious cycle – if you can't eat, you get weaker and as you feel weaker you feel even less energy to weak and so it goes on. You might start to depend on others more which increases their burden and perhaps a sense of guilt on the part of the patient. Physical activity and exercise can lesson the feelings of nausea and in turn improve your appetite.

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects for up to seventy percent of patients who undergo radiation and chemotherapy. Patients think resting will help with the fatigue but in fact exercise can improve endurance and maintain muscle mass.

Steroids used in certain cancer treatments can also reduce muscle mass which is known as steriod-induced myopathy and can increase the risk of osteoporosis which is the weakening of bones. Dr Paul Mackarey suggests weight-bearing exercises such as using resistence weights and dumb-bells to keep bones strong and healthy.

Physical activity keeps your muscles strong which also helps your balance. If you have good balance the chances of tripping and falling down are reduced even if you are feeling on the weaker and frail-side.

Exercise can also help to boost your immune system that may be suppressed by chemotherapy and the cancer itself.

As for what exercise to do and how much, there are no specific guidelines as it depends on your own situation, physical condition and circumstances. Have a chat to your doctor about an exercise routine which works for you. There are even cancer exercise specialists you can consult. Maintain a positive outlook, and be open to looking into support and treatment options beyond the first consulation. We wish you all the best.