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In the US, over 1.7 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2018.
But, despite the prevalence of cancer, mortality rates have dropped by 27 percent in the last 25 years. Thanks to advances in early detection and treatment, our approach to fighting cancer is now very different.
In the past, doctors advised those undergoing cancer treatment to rest. But now, doctors are now more likely to recommend exercise for cancer patients.
Exercising during cancer treatment boosts mental and physical health. And it can also promote a faster and more effective recovery.
That said, you need to recognize your limitations when it comes to cancer and exercise. Read on to learn more about the dos and don’ts of exercising during cancer treatment.
Article at a glance
Get the OK from Your Doctor First
You should always speak to your doctor before you begin any exercise regime. But this advice is especially vital for cancer patients. Even if you exercised before starting treatment, there are cancer and exercise guidelines you need to follow for optimal recovery.
Your doctor’s advice will depend a lot on your diagnosis and the treatment you’re undergoing, as well as your age and health level. You also have to consider the side effects of treatment, such as numbness, being sick, or an irregular heartbeat, and how to manage these alongside exercise.
Also, there may be some types of exercise that you should strive to do or avoid to help recovery.
For example, after breast cancer surgery, doctors recommend doing shoulder and arm exercises. These help you regain the function and movement you had before surgery. That said, you may need to limit yourself to stretching exercises as your doctor may tell you not to lift or push anything too heavy.
Choose an Exercise You Enjoy
Just as this treatment uses the power of nature, embracing your body’s natural desire to move can help improve both your physical and mental health. But to reap the full range of health benefits, exercise for cancer patients during treatment should be enjoyable.
Exercising can be a way to take your mind off your treatment and your condition. It also helps to reinforce a positive relationship with your body.
If lifting weights or running feels like a punishment, you won’t get the same benefits. You’re also more likely to give up.
But, by taking part in a physical activity you enjoy – whether that’s walking, dancing or yoga – you’ll reap the physical benefits and the positive mental boost. This, in turn, will help improve your quality of life and your self-esteem.
Consider a Specialized Program
If you are unsure of how to approach cancer and exercise, ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist who works with cancer patients.
These physical therapists can help design an individualized exercise program which takes all factors into account. These include your condition, your treatment program, and your previous exercise experience. They can also recommend specific exercises to help reduce pain and other symptoms.
Also, some hospitals and gyms may offer exercise classes which aim to address the specific needs of people with cancer. These classes help to incorporate a social aspect into a manageable exercise routine. This builds camaraderie and reduces the possibility of exercise intimidation.
If it’s safe for you to do so according to your doctor’s cancer and exercise guidelines, exercising outdoors amplifies the benefits of physical activity for cancer patients even more.
One reason for this is because cancer therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy weaken the immune system. But exercising outside in nature helps strengthen your immune system.
Time outdoors in nature also gives you a dose of vitamin D as well as a big mood boost, while the fresh air helps you sleep better. And, the changing scenery offered by outdoor exercise makes for a more enjoyable workout that inspires you to do more yet feels less demanding.
That said, if you feel weak or unsteady, be cautious about exercising outside. Instead, it would be safer to exercise in a controlled environment, such as a gym.
Or, you could limit your outdoor physical activity to gardening. This way you would reap the benefits of nature without pushing yourself too much.
Avoid Swimming Pools
While we’re on the subject of choosing an appropriate exercise environment, it’s best to avoid swimming pools.
Cancer treatment compromises your immune system, and swimming pools can often expose you to bacteria and infections that your body is unable to fight off. Plus, if you’re having radiation therapy, the chlorine may irritate your skin.
If you are still keen to go swimming while having chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you should discuss it with your doctor first. They may have some recommendations that will help you cut the risks and potential discomfort.
Don’t Push Yourself
No matter what exercise you choose, it’s vital not to push yourself while you’re going through cancer treatment.
Although 30 minutes of exercise per day is the recommended amount, you can do this in three lots of 10 minutes. If aerobic exercise is too much, consider lighter physical activities such as tai chi and yoga. These integrate movement and enhance wellness, while being gentle enough for beginners.
But, even if you’re used to exercising, cancer treatment can take its toll on your health and energy levels. As a result, your limitations will be different now.
People who exercised a lot before their cancer diagnosis can find it hard to scale their workouts back. But a healthy recovery is more important than beating your personal best. And you can always build your strength back up when you’re well again.
Your Guide to Exercise for Cancer Patients
As these recommendations show, there are several factors to take into account when it comes to exercise for cancer patients.
But, there is always a manageable way to incorporate exercise into your treatment and recovery program for optimal physical and mental health benefits.
Of course, as well as keeping active, you should be sure to follow a healthy diet to help promote recovery in your fight against cancer. Following these tips can assist you in improving your health and working your way toward recovery.
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