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Should Cancer Patients Exercise?

April 22, 2012

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When first diagnosed with cancer, patients are told to rest and reserve their energy, so it may sound counterproductive when they’re also told to exercise. It would seem that exercising would deplete the body of energy, but the truth is that exercising has a whirlwind of benefits for the cancer patient. Some of the immediate benefits are the same as for anyone who exercises and include a lower risk of heart disease, healthier bones, stronger muscles and joints and a healthy body weight. Yet there are other benefits of fitness that are specifically related to cancer patients.

Cancer patients, especially those diagnosed with rare forms like mesothelioma, often feel depressed and isolated as they combat their disease. Fitness provides physical and emotional well-being, things that are often lacking in patients with cancer. It’s recommended that people get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week, but doctors according to the nature of the cancer may modify the type and amount of exercise. Nevertheless, even small amounts of exercise can greatly improve one’s outlook on life and serve as fundamental treatments for mesothelioma.

In fact, one study showed that short workouts of eight minutes lower sadness, tension, fatigue and anger. Fitness is so crucial to one’s mental health that it has been shown to help people who suffer from severe mental illness to combat the disease without using antidepressants. Although not all factors are known at this time, the theory for why physical fitness is so advantageous has to do with the types of endorphins that are produced while exercising.

More specifically, there are chemicals that are released in the brain that act as natural painkillers to our body. This is why fitness has the direct benefit of making people feel better and stronger right off the bat and helps ease pain and discomfort. Furthermore, these same chemicals are known for improving happiness and leading to better sleep patterns, two crucial elements in the fight against cancer.

Of course, there is the direct benefit of losing weight, looking better and feeling more confident after working out, and cancer patients will find new-found happiness in these elements. This is especially important because some of the cancer medications cause bloating, weight gain and fatigue. Exercising can help improve these side effects so that they take less of a toll on the body.

It’s important to note that not only is fitness during cancer treatment critical, but also it’s the one major factor that will aid in remission. The American Cancer Society links one-third of all American deaths to poor diet, inadequate physical activity and obesity. By getting the body on the right path, being physically active and physically fit will lead to a better quality of life and prevent the cancer from returning. In fact, the American Cancer Society has found that although genes do influence the risk of cancer, it’s actually lifestyle choices that are the most influential.

For those diagnosed with cancer, life will never be the same. You will have a different outlook on life and may carry certain scars or physical limitations due to the cancer. But you have a second chance at life, and it’s important to embrace that life. Incorporating healthy amounts of fitness into your daily routine has both physical and emotional benefits that can’t be replicated by anything else. If you begin exercising as soon as possible, you’ll be able to enjoy the rewards sooner, have more energy and stamina to fight the disease and suffer fewer side effects from the medications.

-Guest posted by David Haas

Joining the organization in 2011, David Haas is a cancer support group and awareness program advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. In addition to researching the many valuable programs available to our site’s visitors, David often blogs about programs and campaigns underway at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, as well as creative fitness ideas for those dealing with cancer, while creating relationships with similar organizations.

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