According to the American Cancer Society, over 1.8 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2023 in the United States alone. Cancer is a life-changing event that can have a significant impact on a person’s physical and mental well-being. However, emerging research has shown that exercise and fitness can play a critical role in cancer recovery, helping to reduce the risk of recurrence, alleviate symptoms and side effects, and improve overall quality of life. In this article, we will explore how fitness can aid in cancer recovery and provide practical strategies for incorporating exercise into your recovery plan.
Reducing the Risk of Recurrence
One of the most significant benefits of exercise in cancer recovery is its ability to reduce the risk of recurrence. Studies have shown that regular exercise can reduce the risk of breast, colon, and endometrial cancers by up to 30%. Additionally, exercise has been found to reduce the risk of death from breast and colon cancers by up to 50%.
Jenny Santoro was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 40s. After undergoing surgery and chemotherapy, she was left feeling weak and fatigued. She knew that she needed to do something to regain her strength and improve her overall health, so she decided to incorporate fitness into her cancer recovery plan.
At first, she was hesitant to start exercising. She was worried that it would be too difficult and that she might injure herself. However, with the help of her healthcare provider, she started slowly with gentle yoga and light walking. As her strength and stamina improved, she began to incorporate more challenging workouts, such as weight training and cardio.
The mechanisms behind these findings are not yet fully understood. However, it is believed that exercise helps to strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, and regulate hormone levels, all of which can contribute to the development and progression of cancer. Exercise has also been found to improve insulin sensitivity, which can help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, a condition that is known to increase the risk of several types of cancer.
Alleviating Symptoms and Side Effects
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can cause a range of physical and mental side effects, including fatigue, nausea, pain, and depression. Exercise has been shown to alleviate many of these symptoms, leading to improved quality of life for cancer patients and survivors.
For example, a study conducted by the University of British Columbia found that breast cancer survivors who participated in a 12-week exercise program experienced significant improvements in fatigue, depression, and quality of life compared to those who did not exercise. Another study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that exercise can help to reduce cancer-related pain, particularly in breast cancer patients.
Jenny found that exercise not only helped her regain her strength and energy, but it also had a positive impact on her mental health. She felt more empowered and in control of her own recovery journey. She also found that exercise helped her cope with the emotional challenges of cancer treatment, such as anxiety and depression.
Through consistent physical activity, Jenny was able to reduce her cancer-related symptoms and side effects. She also found that exercise helped her maintain a healthy weight and reduce her risk of cancer recurrence. She now incorporates fitness into her daily routine and encourages other cancer survivors to do the same.
Exercise has also been found to improve cardiovascular health and bone density, two areas that can be negatively impacted by cancer treatments. For example, breast cancer survivors are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease due to the effects of chemotherapy and radiation on the heart. However, exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular function, reducing the risk of heart disease in cancer survivors.
Improving Overall Quality of Life
Finally, exercise can have a profound impact on a person’s overall quality of life during and after cancer treatment. Exercise has been found to reduce anxiety and depression, improve sleep quality, and enhance self-esteem and body image. It can also provide a sense of control and empowerment, helping cancer survivors to feel more in control of their bodies and their lives.
For example, a study conducted by the University of California found that breast cancer survivors who participated in a 12-week exercise program reported significant improvements in quality of life, body image, and self-esteem compared to those who did not exercise. Another study published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship found that exercise can help to reduce fear of cancer recurrence, a common concern among cancer survivors.
Practical Strategies for Incorporating Exercise into Your Recovery Plan
If you are a cancer survivor or currently undergoing cancer treatment, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program. However, in general, most cancer survivors and patients can benefit from regular exercise, even if they have not been physically active in the past.
- Start Slowly and Progress Gradually: Starting a new exercise program can be challenging, especially for cancer survivors who may be dealing with side effects of treatment. It’s important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the exercise over time. This will help prevent injury and reduce the risk of overexertion. A healthcare provider or a certified fitness professional can help create a safe and effective exercise plan that takes into account individual needs and abilities.
- Choose Activities You Enjoy: Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. Choosing activities that you enjoy can make it easier to stick to a fitness routine. This can include walking, swimming, yoga, or any other activity that you find enjoyable and motivating. Group fitness classes or workouts with a partner can also provide additional support and accountability.
- Make Exercise a Priority: It’s easy to let exercise fall to the bottom of the to-do list when life gets busy. However, making exercise a priority can have a significant impact on overall health and well-being. Set aside time each day or week for physical activity and treat it as you would any other important appointment or task. This may require making adjustments to your schedule or delegating responsibilities to others, but the benefits of regular exercise are well worth the effort.
In conclusion, physical activity and fitness have been shown to have numerous benefits for cancer patients and survivors. Exercise can help reduce the risk of developing cancer and can also aid in cancer recovery and management. Through increased physical activity, individuals can improve their overall health, strengthen their immune system, reduce side effects of cancer treatments, and even decrease the risk of cancer recurrence.
Furthermore, fitness can also provide cancer survivors with a sense of control and empowerment over their own bodies and health. The physical and mental benefits of exercise can improve a survivor’s quality of life and help them cope with the emotional challenges that often come with a cancer diagnosis.
Overall, incorporating physical activity and exercise into a cancer recovery plan is a safe and effective way to improve overall health and well-being. Consult with a healthcare provider or fitness professional to determine the best exercise plan for individual needs and abilities. By committing to a regular fitness routine, cancer patients and survivors can take an active role in their own recovery and experience the many benefits that come with a healthy lifestyle.