For many years exercise was thought to be a contraindication (not recommended) for cancer patients. More recently, an ever-growing body of research found that exercise is beneficial both during and post cancer treatment. The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) and many leading health organisations now acknowledge exercise as a safe and effective intervention to counteract the adverse physical and psychological effects of cancer and its treatment. COSA’s position statement includes the following recommendations:
- exercise to be embedded as part of standard practice in cancer care and to be viewed as an adjunct therapy that helps counteract the adverse effects of cancer and its treatment;
- all members of the multidisciplinary cancer team to promote physical activity and recommend that people with cancer adhere to exercise guidelines; and
- best practice cancer care to include referral to an accredited exercise physiologist or physiotherapist with experience in cancer care.
Exercise for Cancer Treatment & Recovery
Evidence has shown that exercise under the guidance of an Exercise Physiologist can reduce the impact of symptoms and treatment-related side-effects, with improved survival for particular cancers such as prostate, breast and colon cancers.
Soon after the onset of radiation or chemo-therapy comes the array of treatment-induced symptoms. Not only can the treatment regime be very debilitating to the patient’s physical health, but their mental health can suffer often relating to the lack of control they feel about the events of their own life. Exercise as medicine has the benefit of simultaneously addressing and improving the physical and mental health of the patient.
Many treatment-related symptoms can be alleviated with a carefully prescribed exercise program. The noteworthy benefits are seen in maintaining and/or improving hypertension, improving fatigue and maintaining functional capacity that might otherwise have become problematic. The health benefits related to exercise in the general population can be translated to the cancer patient and cancer survivor population. Exercise can reduced the risk of many co-morbidities, which can surface during cancer treatment, including Cardiovascular Disease, Hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes. Exercise not only boosts the chance of survival, but can enhance the longevity of life post-treatment.
Mental health is one other significant benefit that has been supported by an exercise regime. Patients who feel an overwhelming lack of power over their body and life can regain an element of control with an exercise program. Exercise Physiologist prescribed programs have shown a significant improvement in mental health markers for people during and following Cancer treatment. Many report that in all the craziness that surrounds cancer treatment; their exercise program is theirs and theirs alone to control. It is also evident that a reduced incidence of depression, anxiety and stress are significant benefits resulting from regular exercise.