Exercising as a Cancer Patient: Is it safe?
Posted on 1st April 2021
These are some of the most common questions cancer sufferers ask when talking about the possibility of incorporating exercise into their everyday lives:
Is it unsafe for me to exercise?
Can it make my cancer worse?
If I exercise, will it affect my treatment?
The short answer? Usually no!
In Fact… Exercise Is Encouraged
Every cancer patient is different; the struggles vary.
Some find it difficult to get out the house regularly; some can run a marathon.
There is no ‘one way’ or ‘right way’ to how each cancer patient may want to tailor their exercise. The options are limitless. Some individuals might partake in strength and conditioning (i.e. weight training) or cardio (i.e. running, cycling).
Regardless of whatever form of exercise is adopted, it’s usually a fantastic contributor towards improved mental health. It’s something that during the darkest times, can give you great escape and a sense of achievement when things may not be going your way.
For example, some treatments involve invasive methods, such as during a mastectomy where the affected breast tissue is cut away. This can alter body image, self-esteem, and confidence, resulting in challenges maintaining positivity, and possible depression throughout (and years after) treatment.
Partaking in exercising whilst undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy is considered a completely safe method to improve body image, your mood, and even act as pain relief. This is done through the release of ‘happy chemicals’ known as dopamine and endorphins, which are a natural chemical addition to other pharmaceutical medications. Doctors encourage patients to be active and get back to their normal activities as soon as possible.
Whilst exercise might be encouraged, for the most part, it’s always a good measure though to check in with your doctor before starting a new programme.
Listening To Your Body is Important
This is a tip that encompasses all forms of health, but cancer patients do struggle a bit more in regard to the aches and pains alongside their treatment. Often cancer patients receive hormone-based drugs, which can cause the patient’s joints to become painful, causing symptoms similar to osteoarthritis. If an activity becomes a bit too uncomfortable one day, then listen to your body, stop and try again when your body feels right. It could be that daily gentle stretches might be more suitable than more strenuous activities.
In a handful of cases, some medications can lower the density of the bone causing a condition known as osteopenia. In these circumstances, very strenuous weight bearing activity is not advised as it may aggravate some symptoms and cause damage. On a positive note, training within your limits will not affect your cancer treatment. Therefore, if you feel well enough to do an activity, then do it! But if you are ever unsure, always ask your consultant.
The only activity which should be avoided during treatment is swimming. Even though the exercise itself is safe, the swimming pool environment poses the risk of infection to chemotherapy patients. This includes patients undergoing radiotherapy, as the chlorinated water can irritate and damage fragile skin post treatment.
The golden rule to stick to is to do everything in moderation and treat every day as a new day. If one day your body is telling you to stay in bed, then listen to it and recover. If your body is telling you to get up, get out and get going then do not be afraid or apprehensive to do so!
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