Exercise helps cancer patients and survivors

Sadly, the number of new cancer cases diagnosed in the UK is increasing. It is likely that we all know somebody who has been effected by cancer themselves or within their families. Luckily, due to advances in treatments the survival rates are also increasing. Thankfully now 50% survive cancer for 10 years or more. This has created a growing group of people with unique health requirements.

A recent study has suggested that exercise can help address many of the issues faced by cancer patients and survivors. The study reviewed 100 papers that included 1000’s of patients with different types of cancer and recorded their activity levels. The review supports the view of including exercise in cancer care, reporting these major benefits:

  1. Reduces cancer related death by up to 44%
  2. Reduces cancer re-occurrence by up to 35%
  3. Exercise is the number 1 treatment for fatigue- the most common side effect of cancer
  4. Helpful at reducing depression due to hormone release
  5. Management of lymphedema (swelling)
  6. Increased effectiveness and completion rates of chemotherapy- patients bodies are more robust and able to cope better with the toxic treatments

Anyone with a cancer diagnosis should receive specialised advice from a trained professional on activity levels. Once treatment has been completed patients should aim to achieve the World Health Organisations recommended activity guidelines for all adults (unless otherwise advised). These guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week, or a combination of the two.

In 2015 38% of cancer cases were preventable because they were caused by lifestyle choices such as obesity and smoking. Completing regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk of 13 types of cancer! Exercise maintains healthy hormone levels, strengthens the immune system and helps the digestive system by speeding potentially harmful substances through the intestines.

For anybody returning to exercise after cancer treatment or anybody starting exercise to prevent cancer, getting started can be difficult. The advice is to keep it simple and enjoyable. Activities such as walking or dancing to music are good forms of exercise. It is also important to be realistic. Start with a few minutes and gradually add more. It can also be useful to tell people that you are aiming to be more active. Friends and family will support and motivate you on your journey.

Exercise can be done formally in the form of a class or swimming session or you can sneak it in, by parking further away to do the shop or deciding to take the stairs instead of the lift. However, you decide to exercise your body will feel the benefits and professional help is always available if needed.

Claire Reach MCSP HCPC
Senior Physiotherapist
PhysioFixx Physiotherapy Clinic


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