26 October 2011

Guest Article - Benefits of Fitness on Cancer Survival

Being diagnosed with cancer can be devastating to one’s emotions and, obviously, one’s general outlook on life. For many, cancer is still perceived to be a terminal illness, which leads to death in a matter of years or even months.

However, thanks to modern medicine, cancer is now often curable if detected early. Even in cases where the cancer has progressed, patients can still hope to add to their life expectancy with proper treatment and a healthy lifestyle.

Importance of Staying Fit as a Cancer Patient

A common misconception is that being physically active when one has been diagnosed with cancer will aggravate the illness. A cancer patient often lacks energy, but recent evidence shows that any physical activity that he or she can manage can be beneficial.

For example, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that stamina gained from regular exercise can actually lower the risk of death from breast cancer. In the study, women with breast cancer who walked at least three hours a week dramatically dropped their mortality risk by as much as 50%.

Dr. Michelle Holmes of the Harvard Medical School, a lead investigator of the study, suggested that physical activity might lower hormone levels, which suppresses the growth and spread of cancer. Also, because breast cancer often leads to insulin resistance, exercise is beneficial by controlling both blood sugar levels and weight, which improves patient outcomes.

Former tennis superstar Martina Navratilova affirms that being in condition helped her deal with her cancer. Instead of moping over her cancer diagnosis, she chose to stand up to it and stay active as though the cancer was not there. While she felt the toll of cancer and was more easily fatigued, her fitness routines during her radiation therapy helped her maintain her stamina and positive mindset.

Some Caveats about Fitness Routines for Cancer Patients

One cautionary note is that cancer patients need to be aware of their physical limits and should practice moderation in their exercise routines. Over-vigorous and prolonged exercising could excessively strain the body instead of strengthen it, making it more vulnerable to cancer complications. Consequently, the proper amount of exercise should be one of the topics to discuss with your physician.

Another special case when considering a fitness regiment is mesothelioma, which weakens the lining of the chest and causes shortness of breath. These conditions can worsen through exercise. Moreover, some forms of conventional mesothelioma treatment, such as chemotherapy, can cause extreme fatigue. Consequently, medical practitioners advise that mesothelioma patients start out with low impact exercises, such as walking, light weightlifting, or yoga.   

Some symptoms for cancer patients to watch out for during exercise are nausea, vertigo, headache, pain, numbness, blurred vision or weakness during exercise. If experienced, these should be brought up with a physician.

While cancer is obviously a serious condition, it is by no means a death sentence. Modern medical treatment together with maintaining physical fitness can help cancer patients survive the disease and thrive both mentally and physically.

By: David Haas