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Cancer and the essential role of exercise

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I listened to a Macmillan webinar on physical activity and its importance for people living with and beyond cancer.

Key facts –

More than 2.5 million people live with cancer in the UK.

More people are surviving and living longer with cancer.

By 2020, one in every two people will have developed cancer in their lifetime. Forty percent of all cancers are caused by lifestyle factors, such as smoking, diet, alcohol overweight and inactivity.

Average survival rate is now more than ten years after diagnosis, but this does not necessarily mean people are living well.

 

Key benefits of being more physically active for people living with cancer, as shown in reviews of high quality research studies –

Reduction in treatment-related fatigue

Less joint pain

Positive impact on hot flushes, mood, anxiety and depression, weight gain, and arthritis

Reduced chance of recurrence of cancer

Physical activity at recommended levels decreases the risk of breast, colon, prostate, lung and brain cancer recurrence and mortality by 30-50 %.

It has been reported in lung and prostate cancer that fitter individuals tolerate treatment better.

Physical activity can even help people in palliative care to preserve functional outcomes like walking ability and strength and reduce loss of appetite.

 

Exercise training is safe for cancer patients, even for people who were previously inactive, with appropriate progressions. Certain precautions apply, depending on the stage of cancer, but there are very few risks. Guidelines for exercise for the general public apply to those living with cancer, which are to exercise at a moderate intensity on most days of the week, totalling 150 minutes a week, in chunks of at least ten minutes.

Reducing sedentary behaviour is a key aim, and it is important to realise that something is definitely better than nothing, including housework, gardening, walking and playing with grand children.

Remaining physically active after treatment can give someone with cancer a sense of control over their physical condition and of re-establishing their normal life.

Avoiding sedentary behaviour is a vital message. An interesting study in 1966 (Dallas Bed Rest study) showed that 3 weeks of complete best rest resulted in declines in VO2 max (an aerobic capacity measure) equal to that seen over 40 years of normal ageing!

To help maintain quality of life after a cancer diagnosis and reduce the risk of recurrence it is essential that we all encourage the loved friends and family we know living with cancer to sit less, move more. Every bit counts.

Lisa :)

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