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Can Exercise Help Manage Cancer?

September 8, 2020

Yes. Definitely… is the short answer. Cancer can affect any one of any age and therefore depending on the type, stage and location of the cancer, treatment plans will vary. This could include radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, stem cell transplants or surgery/removal. However, EXERCISE is a vital part of any cancer patient’s treatment. 

An Exercise Physiologist specialises in the two main phases of treatment; prehabilitation and rehabilitation. The prehabilitation phase is important to facilitate increases in muscle strength, range of motion and provide positive mental health benefits. These adaptations are important to achieve prior to treatment due to the nature of cancer treatment. Physiological and psychological effects of treatment can include bone marrow depression, nausea, peripheral neuropathy, fatigue, decreased bone mineral density and anxiety or depression. The severity of these effects of treatment can be diminished through the power of exercise! Just a few of the extensive number of benefits from exercise include increasing muscle regeneration, improve cardiovascular efficiency, stimulate bone growth, improve sleep quality and up-regulation of immune function. These benefits ultimately add up to increase an individual’s overall quality of life! 

Depending on the treatment method, the extent of exercise participation will vary throughout the treatment itself. This could look like maintaining your muscular strength to perform activities of daily living through strength training or it could be participating in Yoga or Tai Chi practices. Low intensity modes of exercise like Yoga and Tai Chi are continuing to grow in popularity for cancer treatment due to the mental health benefits they provide. It decreases participants overall stress levels and provides reductions in pain. For those that are deconditioned due to treatment restrictions, mobility exercises like stretching or assisted range of motion may be undertaken. Another option are group classes that provide the opportunity to make connections with fellow cancer patients or other individuals to provide those social benefits. There is strong evidence from ESSA (Exercise and Sport Science Australia) that including exercise during the active treatment phase for a range of cancers results in better outcomes. The rehabilitation phase is equally as important to regain these physical and psychological adaptations that may have been lost during treatment. 

An Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) has been tertiary trained in providing exercise as a form of treatment for those diagnosed with cancer. They are aware of the different treatment methods and how this may affect your body. Your AEP will be able to tailor an exercise program to meet your individual needs and goals, that adapts with you during your treatment and recovery phases. 

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