Exercise as a Part of Cancer Treatment

There is a growing body of evidence that various exercise programs are of significant benefit to persons undergoing cancer treatment. Cancer is the broad classification of diseases where human cells grow in a malignant fashion within the body, resulting in the destruction of an organ or system, with death a common result. Cancer treatments have traditionally included radiation therapy to destroy malignant growths, various forms of anticancer medications, and the surgical removal of the affected area. Many cancer treatments involve modification of diet. All cancer treatments are highly stressful to the body and such procedures commonly cause significant physical weakness and fatigue in a cancer patient. Cancer treatments and the threat of death that accompanies the disease in almost all of its forms will also place significant mental stress on most patients.

Exercise programs tend to assist cancer patients with respect to the physical consequences of their treatment as well as in lessening the mental health impacts. The primary objective of an effective exercise program for these persons is the appropriate tailoring of exercise volume and intensity to the patient's condition. An intense, highly vigorous exercise regime may be counterproductive to the patient, as the body may not be able to absorb the combined stresses of therapy and a physical activity program that requires its own significant recovery period. As a general rule, a moderate exercise program developed in consultation with the treating physician, such as four sessions of cycling per week, or running every other day at a pace where the patient elevates the heart rate to 60% of the maximum rate for 30 to 40 minutes, achieves significant physiological benefits.

Cancer treatments place significant demands on the body; any process by which the body's strength is maintained or enhanced will assist the patient in countering fatigue and the muscle weakness commonly associated with the treatments. Exercise regimes that are properly implemented will specifically aid the patient in preserving the healthy function of the cardiovascular system. Depending on the type of exercise program initiated, the cancer patient would typically expect to be able to maintain body weight, reduce the risk of increased body fat associated with a sedentary lifestyle, and, through the stimulation of the endocrine and related systems, the patient can maintain the strength of the body's immune systems. Exercise promotes natural sleep patterns, an important factor in dealing with the stresses of cancer treatment.

The psychological benefits of exercise for the cancer patient may be as important as the physical consequences. Cancer studies have confirmed a profound relationship between exercise and heightened self-esteem for persons undergoing cancer treatments. Regular exercise, in addition to the release of the natural hormone, endorphin, which tends to elevate mood, also provides a positive focal point for the patient in the midst of often difficult and emotionally grueling procedures.

SEE ALSO Disabled individuals and regular physical exercise; Fitness; Health.