There are many layers to an effective treatment for cancer. Even after diagnosis, it has been shown through a significantly growing pool of research that an exercise program during treatment, whether it be during surgical, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy-related interventions, all benefit from an adjoining exercise program. 

A well-designed program may be able to:

  • Lower the chance of side effects, such as fatigue, neuropathy, lymphedema, osteoporosis, and nausea
  • Reduce the risk of depression and anxiety
  • Maintain mobility and function, including reducing falls risk
  • Prevent muscle loss and build strength
  • Prevent weight gain and obesity
  • Improve sleep
  • Decrease length of stay in hospital
  • Make treatment more effective at destroying tumor cells
  • Improve survival rates for various cancers
  • Prevent other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes

An effective exercise program will usually include a mixture of the following: 

  • Stretching to maintain mobility, and address post-surgical scarring and radiation-related muscle stiffness
  • Balance exercise to offset the secondary loss, including sensory changes with cancer treatment
  • Aerobic exercise to promote positive changes to heart, lungs, and body cells, improving overall fitness and energy
  • Strength training to combat muscle wastage from inactivity and treatments, including preventing bone density loss

It is important to recognize that although exercise has evidence of effectiveness, it needs to be addressed with caution, and certainly does not replace conventional treatment. Appropriate medical and exercise advice should be received from a health care professional, and may already be structured into the treatment program for many patients. It can be challenging, particularly with fatigue-related responses to cancer interventions, but in the longer term, can actually lessen symptoms. Ultimately, exercise has proven to be a key player in improving outcomes for many conditions – let’s add cancer to the list!

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