Guest Article: Fitness and Cancer, By Liz Davies

Special thanks to Liz for her contribution to this blog.

Fitness and Cancer

A diagnosis of cancer often results in a significant decline in physical activity, according to epidemiological studies.  The stress of preparing for treatments and telling family and friends about the diagnosis is overwhelming enough to make many people put exercise on the back burner.  The type of treatment can reduce exercise regularity even further, as patients experiencing the fatigue and nausea of chemotherapy and the pain of recovery from an operation are less likely to push themselves.  Instead of leaving exercise as an afterthought, more and more doctors are urging their patients to engage in physical activity, and their reasons may come as a surprise.

The Role of Fitness in Reducing Symptoms

Whether the cancer is rare and terminal or a treatable, hormone-based cancer, exercise offers some definite benefits. Fatigue is one of the leading complaints. Beginning with the stress of a diagnosis, many patients experience fatigue that can last years after successful treatment. Exercise combats this, causing the body to balance hormones and promote healthy body composition. Toned muscles and strong circulation are important to keeping a steady metabolism, which is the body's energy management system.

Regular movement is also helpful for treating digestive problems that routinely appear as nausea, loss of appetite, constipation and diarrhea.  Exercise stimulates the body's need for nutrition and promotes regularity in bowel movements.  Additionally, the hormones produced during exercise can relieve pain caused by treatments and the cancer itself.

Fitness and Survival

Though researchers have been unable to separately verify whether exercise is beneficial to treatment regimens, it does promote quality of life.  Exercise during treatment for certain types of cancer has been shown to increase survival.  This may be due to the direct effect of the body better able to metabolize and distribute medicine, or it could simply be the indirect effect of having a better quality of life.

It is well known that exercise prevents many forms of cancer, and survivor programs are increasingly turning to physical therapists to reduce recurrence.  One of the major benefits of maintaining a program during treatment is that is can be continued after treatment. 

The type of fitness program is less important than keeping to a regular schedule.  Most experts agree that any form of aerobic exercise engaged in regularly will show benefits, but it is important to consult with a doctor and fitness expert during cancer treatment.  Sometimes certain types of exercises will be recommended.  For example, mesothelioma and lung cancer causes doctors to often advocate cardio exercises while breast cancer patients will be urged to focus on flexibility.

Liz Davies is a recent college graduate and aspiring writer especially interested in health and wellness.  She wants to make a difference in people's lives because she sees how cancer has devastated so many people in this world.  Liz also likes running, playing lacrosse, reading and playing with her dog, April.

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