This month’s article is written by David Haas of the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance and used with his permission.


Health, Fitness and Cancer- Minimizing Risks and Improving Outcomes

Cancer is a term that describes abnormal body cells that grow out of control and invade other tissues. Cancer is not a single disease but many different diseases. In fact, more than 100 different cancers have been identified, and most are named for the organ or cell where they begin.

The National Cancer Institute estimates more than 1.6 million new cancer cases. This does not include benign skin tumors or cancers that were diagnosed before 2012. More than half a million deaths from cancer will occur this year. [] Cancer is a serious and deadly disease, but people can minimize the risks through healthy lifestyles and physical fitness.

Exercise Through Cancer

When someone faces a new cancer diagnosis, goes through cancer treatment or enjoys a time of remission, exercise is crucial. It may be the last thing cancer patients want to do, but it greatly improves the way they feel and cope.

Many people would like to exercise through the cancer experience, but they worry about falling or passing out. Cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy zap their energy and leave them with unpleasant side effects. Fortunately, the desire to return to everyday routines is a good motivator for exercise during cancer.

The American Cancer Society recommends physical activity before, during and after treatment. [] Regardless of age or fitness level, all patients benefit from regular exercise. Numerous studies confirm this. People who work out on a consistent basis are healthier and less stressed than those with sedentary lifestyles. They usually enjoy lower medical costs, too.

Exercise reduces the original cancer risk as well as the chance for recurrence. It also lowers the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. Some studies even suggest that exercise extends life. Certainly, physical activity is a “whole health” activity that improves the body, mind and spirit.

Cancer patients find that exercise lessens the symptoms typically associated with aggressive medical treatments. Fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other side effects are often diminished through exercise and nutrition. Treatment outcomes are generally improved as well.

National Exercise Guidelines

Patients should choose their physical activities well. People who do fun things are less likely to become bored or view exercise as a chore. Moderately intense activities are recommended, and patients should strive for 150 minutes each week. National guidelines suggest spreading the exercise throughout the week, starting slow and building up. If patients are able, they should combine aerobic activity with flexibility movements and strength training.

The type, intensity and duration of exercise will depend on factors like fitness level, treatment method and personal preference. Doctors and fitness trainers can work with cancer patients to tailor a safe exercise plan. The fitness regimen of someone with a mesothelioma diagnosis will look different than a breast cancer survivor’s program. However, both will contain appropriate activities suited to the patient.

Maintaining a healthy weight is also important to health, and cancer patients must pay special attention to weight management. Some patients gain weight easily during the treatment process, while others lose their appetite and the pounds come off quickly. Striking a balance between the calories eaten and those burned through exercise is the key. Cancer patients who engage in exercise usually enjoy a healthier appetite and waistline.

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