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Cancer and resistance exercise

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CPeople who are living with or recovering from cancer can be reluctant to exercise for various reasons, but it is important to aim to preserve muscle mass with resistance exercise. It is associated with maintenance of normal daily activities and less fatigue.

On reading an article by the American Council on Exercise (2020) I have taken the following information.

The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Cancer Society ‘have recently recommended that people affected by cancer should engage in regular physical activity’.

The average age of a cancer diagnoses is 66. As we age there is a natural loss of muscle, quality nutritional intake decreases, sedentary behaviour can set in, and body composition changes in a negative direction. Bone mineral density decreases due to decreased uptake of calcium and other minerals. Loss of bone is also due to hormonal changes and even cholesterol lowering drugs. Fat is stored in unhealthy areas such as the abdomen, and within muscles. Loss of muscle strength and function due to lack of activity is a significant factor in body composition changes.

A cancer diagnosis has a deleterious effect on muscle mass via some treatments, some medications, lifestyle changes, hormonal changes, and removal and treatment of some organs. The emotional toll can be life altering.

Within the first year of diagnosis most patients experience a big reduction in activity levels due to treatment appointments, surgery recovery, worry about continuing activity, fatigue, lack of confidence.  Sedentary lifestyle is the biggest contributor to loss of muscle mass.

Unfortunately, (and surprisingly) walking alone is not sufficient to reduce fatigue. This is due to the lack of recruitment of type two muscle fibres (fast twitch) during walking. Calling on type two fibres helps to maintain strength, which in turn helps limit fatigue.

Recent guidelines recommend one or two sets of eight to twelve reps of resisted exercise for the whole body. While there are things to bear in mind when choosing exercises, such as weak core, pelvic floor or lower back muscles due to surgery, scar tissue and radiation effects, resistance exercise is still encouraged, with modifications if necessary.

Cancer survivors should also be advised to do aerobic exercise, including higher intensity intervals to help reduce cardiovascular effects.

Although exercise should always be individually tailored to the needs and potential limitations of the person, (which may change daily), research shows it is extremely beneficial.

Lisa 🙂

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