Dr. Tan Wu Meng, a medical oncologist at Parkway Cancer Centre, said that some studies among survivors of breast, colorectal or prostate cancers, have shown a strong link between exercise and better survival outcomes among cancer patients.
For example, a study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute in the United States in 2006 looked at the effects of moderate exercise on breast and prostate cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy for six weeks.Those assigned to a daily programme – taking walks of increasing distance and doing exercises with a resistance band – had less fatigue, greater strength and better aerobic capacity than those who did not exercise.
A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology published in 2008 found that women with breast cancer who increased their physical activity after diagnosis and surgery had a 45% LOWER risk of death.
One of the most common side effects of chemotherapy is immunosuppression or a weaker immune system.
Because a patient’s immune system may be compromised during cancer treatment, some patients assume that they should stay at home to avoid picking up a virus in public spaces.
Dr. Tan said many patients think a cancer diagnosis “means resting in bed even if you are feeling alright”.
“With many cancers and modern treatments, side effects are less challenging than before and patients can now lead a “somewhat” normal life,” he said, adding that mild exercise such as brisk walking and stretching can, and should be done by cancer patients.
Light outdoor exercise can not only also boost your immune system but also reduce fatigue and improve the quality of life of cancer survivors.
Exercise promotes Cancer Recovery and reduces Depression
Studies at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have found that non-metastatic colon cancer patients who routinely exercised had lower mortality rate during the study period than their inactive peers, regardless of how active they were before the diagnoses.
In 2012, researchers at the University of North Carolina found that women who exercised during their childbearing years were less likely to develop breast cancer after menopause.Lead researcher Lauren McCullough said that exercising helps to reduce excess body fat that is linked to the presence of certain hormones and substances, known as growth factors, which feed tumor growth.
Other studies have shown that gaining weight during and after cancer treatment raises the risk of a cancer recurrence, particularly for breast, colon and prostate cancers.
Exercise also gives patients a natural way of relieving the feelings of depression that some patients experience.
In Singapore, the National Cancer Centre and the National University Hospital are testing a structured support programme for breast cancer survivors that includes exercise as one of the major components.
Types of exercise for cancer patients
Do not attempt strenuous exercises. “Start slowly and build up to a pace that you are comfortable with”, advises Dr. Tan.
Instead, take daily walks of about 30 minutes, not just for the fresh air but to get the body moving as well.
Other forms of moderate aerobic exercise, Qigong, Yoga, riding a stationary bike, using light weights for strength training, can improve a patient’s well-being and spur the body’s recovery from treatment.
Patients who are too tired or weak to go out to exercise can do stretching and use light weights or resistance bands at home for 20 to 30 minutes a day. Exercising with a friend or family member also helps encourage patients to exercise regularly.On a final note, Dr. Tan shares with our Woman Cancer Warriors this advise “ Listen to your body. There will be days when you are too weak to go outdoors. Stay at home and try slow body movements like tai chi or qi gong. When you are feeling better, take a walk in the park and enjoy the breeze and sunshine.”
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