Starting an exercise program after a cancer diagnosis can be very beneficial and result in patients emerging from treatment stronger mentally and physically!
This has been proven by research. One study out of the University of Alberta, led by Kerry Courneya demonstrated increased stamina, increased functional capacity, more strength, improved self-esteem, improved treatment tolerance, decreased pain and an overall better quality of life! Psychological improvements included a decrease in mood disturbances and depression and fewer sleep problems.
The specific exercise “dose” varies from patient to patient depending on if they were exercisers prior to diagnosis and their general physical abilities. The specific cancer diagnosis, treatment regimen, cancer type and how they are responding to treatment also have a part of play. Lymphedema, swelling that can happen as a side effect of breast cancer surgery, can also affect exercise choices but can have significant benefits as well. One size does not fit all! It is important to consult with a Cancer Exercise Specialist and, if necessary, a Lymphedema Specialist to help get started with a program that is right for you.
Following cancer surgery, exercise plays a vital role in helping one return to the fitness level and strength that was maintained prior to surgery. In some cases, surgery, compounded by reconstruction and radiation, has impacts on posture that can be drastically improved through a combination of stretching and strengthening muscles. These can affect everyday functioning like cooking, reaching for things in your cabinet, sitting at a desk, or holding a baby. These muscle imbalances can create a chain reaction leading to neck, back, knee or ankle pain. A thorough assessment can help determine what areas need to be stretched and what muscles need to be strengthened.
It’s also important not to forget the improvements made through cardiovascular conditioning. Exercises like biking, walking, swimming, running, etc. show an increase in endorphins that will give patients a boost emotionally as well as much-needed energy. Not only can a combination of stretching and strengthening improve a cancer survivor’s quality of life during and after treatment, there is a lower rate of recurrence when patients are involved in an ongoing exercise program after treatment is complete. [i]
[i] Leonard, Andrea BA, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., CES with Dr. Gero, Genn B., Cancer Exercise Specialist Handbook, (Cancer Exercise Training Institute, 2013)