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Exercise – A “Wonder Drug” for Cancer Patients

The benefits of physical exercise are clear, and years of research provide the scientific evidence. Regular activity controls weight, fights disease, improves mood, boosts energy, provides fun, promotes sleep, and sparks sexual activity.

What is good for the general population is good for cancer patients, too. In fact, one British cancer charity called exercise a “wonder drug” for cancer. Unfortunately, it is one “miracle” that often gets overlooked by the healthcare community.

Exercise - A "Wonder Drug" for Cancer PatientsMacmillan Cancer Support Findings

Based in London, Macmillan Cancer Support provides medical, financial and practical support for people with cancer. In an August 2011 report, the charity revealed new evidence pointing to the importance of exercise to cancer recovery and long-term health.

The report revealed several key findings. Breast, bowel, and prostate cancer patients who followed the recommended exercise guidelines experienced a significant reduction in cancer recurrence risk and a higher survival rate. The same exercise levels also reduced the risk of treatment side effects such as nausea, fatigue, depression, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Macmillan Cancer Support also discovered that many health care professionals were unaware of the strong benefits of exercise for cancer patients. In fact, more than half of the country’s general practitioners (GPs), oncologists and nurses do not advise patients of the benefits of exercise during and after treatment.

National Exercise Recommendations

In years past, standard medical advice recommended rest and inactivity during and after chemotherapy and other treatments. New research suggests this advice is outdated and could put some cancer patients at an even greater risk.

Doctors now recognize exercise as a “wonder drug.” While physical activity cannot cure cancer, it helps patients cope with the myriad of symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment. Many patients say it gives them strength, energy and confidence to fight their disease and move beyond it.

Like the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends 150 minutes of physical activity every week. Exercise can reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases by nearly fifty percent. It is free, easy to take, works immediately, and does not require a GP prescription, says the NHS.

Best Activities for Cancer Patients

The weekly 150 minutes of exercise recommended by the ACS and the NHS applies to moderately-intense aerobic activity. National guidelines also recommend stretching and flexibility exercises and resistance training, such as light weight-lifting.

Some cancer patients cannot exercise due to breathing difficulties and heart problems. People with asbestos-related mesothelioma, for example, are unable to do much in the way of exercise. However, mesothelioma patients can benefit from gentle movements, therapeutic massage, and physical therapy.

Brisk walking, water aerobics, bicycle riding, tennis, and even pushing a lawnmower are good aerobic activities for cancer patients who are able to exercise. Fitness classes and exercise buddies provide additional motivation and support.

Tailor-Made Exercise Plans

Despite its “miracle drug” reputation, exercise cannot cure cancer. A growing body of evidence shows that it can prevent and treat some cancers. Cancer mortality and survival rates are also linked to physical activity.

Cancer patients should talk to their GP or other healthcare professional before starting an exercise program. Doctors and fitness professionals can work closely with patients to design a tailor-made regimen that is right for them.

guest post courtesy of David Haas

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