Can exercise prevent cancer? February 4 was World Cancer Day, and among the many diverse benefits of a fitness regimen, research has shown that staying active can protect people from colon, lung, breast, prostate and endometrial cancers.

An increasing risk of these cancers is linked to weight gain and obesity. Although in other cancers, exercise may not be seen as preventive, it is definitely shown to improve the risk factors associated with the disease. Physical activity improves immunity and can help the recovery process.

How cancer patients benefit from exercise

Traditionally, people treated or recovering from cancer were asked to rest and recover and limit their movements. But this leads to further loss of bone and muscle strength, endurance, stamina and overall mobility which in turn delays the recovery process. Restrictive movement is also a leading cause of depression for patients in remission.

Research has proven that exercise is not only possible and safe for those in treatment, but that it also improves mental outlook and quality of life. Exercise benefits include:

  1. Preservation of muscle mass
  2. Increase of muscular strength and endurance
  3. Improved balance and co-ordination
  4. Reduces fatigue, nausea, depression
  5. Decreased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes
  6. Studies have shown that walking at a brisk pace for 3 to 5 hours per week will decrease breast cancer relapse by 50%
  7. Cardio-respiratory fitness is shown to protect against the development of breast cancer and its progression after diagnosis

How cancer patients can exercise

  1. People with cancer should get a clearance from their doctor before beginning an exercise programme with a personal trainer.
  2. The client has to begin a programme slowly and progress gradually, focusing more on duration rather than intensity.
  3. Intensity has to be light-to-moderate depending on the client condition and response to treatment.
  4. When the cancer is in a stage of remission, the person can engage in higher intensities of workouts.
  5. Resistance training should include light weights and many repetitions say, 10 to 15.
  6. Warm-ups and cool-down are very important to maintain range of motion.
  7. Clients facing issues of numbness or balance co-ordination should be careful to avoid uneven surfaces or weight bearing activities. Focus should be more on balance exercises.
  8. Those who have undergone radiation or who have surgical wounds should not expose skin and should be careful about chlorine water when in pools.
  9. Exercise needs to be carefully monitored. Patients should also be guided about healthy eating habits in tune with the workout intensity.
  • Those anemic should not exercise without doctor’s consent and with permission, should stick to very low intensity regimens.
  • Clients with low white blood cell counts and those on medication that may prevent them from fighting infections should avoid public gyms and workout at home instead.
  • People should not exercise within 2 hours of chemotherapy or radiation as increased circulation may impact the effects of therapy.
  • Patients should be watchful for swollen feet, unexplained weight gains, shortness of breath with limited exertion and contact their doctor in case they experience these symptoms.

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Written by Roshini Gilbert

Roshini Gilbert

After a diligent workout plan helped her lose 30kg of post-pregnancy weight, chartered accountant Roshini Gilbert was inspired enough to go from tallying numbers to training others. A freelance personal trainer today, Roshini has been certified by the American Council on Exercises (ACE) for functional fitness and specialises in post-natal weight loss, exercises for low back pain, arthritis and osteoporosis. She also has REHAB Trainer certification from Australia for rehabilitative exercises and has trained with reputed sports physiotherapist Ulrik Larsen in corrective exercises and injury management. In HealthifyMe, Roshini has found a collaborator with a common cause – making people fit to live life to the fullest. Her assessment of how fit you are is based on three broad guidelines — stamina, body age (a person who looks way older than his age can’t be deemed healthy) and lifestyle (beware, those with bad eating habits and sedentary behaviour). Prepare yourself mentally first and then your body will follow, she says, of the opinion that if you want to change something about yourself then you need to challenge yourself to do it. Are you up for it?

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