In the Cancer Olympics - Exercise Wins the Gold

Moving toward your own golds

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Want to win the gold in your own Olympic games - in the competition to beat cancer?

Whether you're in midst of your trial or have already won an event against cancer, there's one thing that really will catapult you toward the medal stand.

And that's exercise. Some form. Any form. Anything you like to do.

Walking. Yoga. Dancing. Jogging. Exercise videos. Rebounding. Lifting weights. Tai Chi. Qigong. Running. Hiking. Whatever.

Or just turn on the music and boogie.

You don't have to be an Olympian. Only a few minutes a day will make a difference. Just do something you enjoy doing and try to do a little - and then a little more - each day, say the experts.

What's so great about exercise?

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society, Len Lichtenfeld, MD, MAC, told dailyRx, "For cancer patients, fatigue, side effects of treatments and emotional issues take a significant toll. Although not all patients can exercise regularly, for those who can, they not infrequently find their quality of life improved."

The American Cancer Society recently published guidelines on diet and exercise for people who are fighting the Big C.

Here's what American Cancer Society Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors concludes:

  • During treatment. Exercise is "safe and feasible" during treatment and helps to improve day-to-day functioning, energy levels and quality of life. Exercise may also help people complete chemotherapy.
  • After treatment: Staying active following treatment reduces the risk of cancer recurrence and helps people with breast, colorectal, prostate and ovarian cancers live longer, according to the report.

Research about how exercise affects lifespan is currently focusing on a variety of different cancers.

Catherine M. Sabiston, PhD, of the Department of Kinesiology & Physical Education at McGill University in Canada has studied the effects of physical activity on the entire cancer journey.

In a recent review study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, Dr. Sabiston concluded the benefits of exercise aren't just for the body, writing that "physical activity may...improve cancer survivors’ physical, psychological and social quality of life facets."

"Encouraging physical activity is the first step in helping cancer survivors experience long-term health and well-being," she wrote.

What's the best type of exercise?

Dr. Sabiston told dailyRx in a telephone interview that she's asked that question all the time.

"I can't answer that, because the best exercise is really the one that each individual enjoys the most," said Dr. Sabiston.

What's most important is finding an activity that can be sustained that isn't so hard that someone gives up not only on that exercise but all activity.

"It may be as simple a matter as having a routine and trying to keep that routine as focused and on track as possible, or it may be a sense of taking control of some aspect of your life," Dr. Lichtenfeld said.

"For most of people undergoing cancer treatment or recovering from that treatment, even simple exercise programs take a huge commitment. So do the best you can, and don't punish yourself if your stamina may not be up to your usual level. "

Ask for help

Dr. Lichtenfeld said that it's important for patients to discuss an exercise plan with their oncology team "to make certain it is safe and appropriate for them."

"Some community programs may offer exercise programs for cancer patients and survivors, where their exercise capacity is assessed and a program prescribed by a trained professional who understands the person's treatment and can assess their exercise tolerance," he said.

"But the key message is to stay as active as you can during your treatment and afterwards," Dr. Lichtenfeld said.

Going for your own gold

Fighting cancer is sort of like training for the Olympics. It can be hard work, but really worth it.

And the gold couldn't be sweeter.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 1, 2012