Physical activity and cancer: how to get started?

Understanding the relation between physical activity and cancer

Every year, the Comprehensive Cancer Center hosts a conference at the UC Davis Medical Center called “Pushing Past Cancer” in Sacramento, USA. This year, Esperity had the priviledge of being invited to attend and present at the event by the coordinator, Marcie Ellis.

One of the very interesting talks was given by Prof. Stockert on the relation between physical activity and cancer and how to get physically active after surviving cancer. Stockert is Professor of physical therapy at California State University, Sacramento.

Why bother to be physically active?

physical-activity-and-cancerIt is very well know that being phyiscally active has several benefits, not only for survivors, but also for healthy individuals. It helps to increase your health span, which refers to how healthy you are during your life. Healthspan is said to be 80% behaviour and 20% genetics, in other words: by adapting your behaviour you can influence how healthy you are. According to Prof. Stockert, being physically inactive is as comparibly harmful as the risks factors for heart disease, such as hypertension, smoking tabaco, high cholesterol and diabetes.

What are the reasons why cancer patients are physically inactive?

The number 1 reason for survivors not being physically active is fatigue. More specifically, Prof. Stockert refers to the term “cancer related fatigue” (CRF). Cancer-related Fatigue [CRF] is a distressing and persistent sense of physical, emotional and/or cognitive tiredness or exhaustion related to cancer or cancer treatment. CRF affects about 70% to 80% of cancer patients/survivors. Symptoms include (but are not limited to): tiredness, exhaustion, weariness, weakness and/or heaviness in the arms, loss of appetite, the need to take naps during the day, etc.

Treatments available for cancer related fatigue

Being physically active is currently one of the best supported interventions to fight cancer related fatigue, according to research. Physical activity can be aerobic excerise or weight lifting. Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, running, riding a bike, swimming and skiing. Before starting any type of exercise, always discuss it with your treating physician, especially when going for vigorous exercise.

Tips on how to become more physically active after cancer

Getting started with physical activity after cancer is not always easy, but there are some easy tricks you can keep in mind. First of all, it is recommended to be physically active for about 30 minutes a day. Generally put, being physically active means elevating your heart and respiratory rate.

To get started, one example is to simply go out for a walk, 30 minutes a day. Make sure you combine something that is fun for you, such as listening to music, walking with your dog or inviting friends to join you. Enjoying your physical activity is key to sustaining it over a longer period of time.

After several weeks, you can try to walk longer, or faster, or start jogging in between. Again: always consult with your treating physician before you start or when you experience pain. To conclude on this post about physical activity and cancer: there is an important relationship between them and it is encouraged to follow the recommendations of being physically active.

For more information about the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, click here. You can also join their Facebook group.