By Jose Pujalte Jr.
“Cancer is the growth of madness denied.”
— Norman Mailer (1923-2007),
U.S. author. An American Dream, ch. 8, Dial (1965).
No doubt, cancer and fatigue go together. Cancer patients are tired all the time especially after chemotherapy/radiotherapy. With (possible) anger, depression, and a low immune state, rest is the only thing left to do. And yet here’s the myth: Rest cures cancer fatigue. It doesn’t. Doing nothing in fact adds to the fatigue. Our bodies were designed to move, with or without cancer.
Yes, but why? Exercise in cancer falls into two broad categories – for those who have survived cancer and for those who want to prevent it. Those who finished their chemotherapy/radiotherapy or have healed from surgery ask: is there a pro-active way to stop the cancer from coming back? A survivor who returns to regular physical activity can live longer free from cancer. Two recent clinical trials proved that women who exercised after cancer treatment not only lived longer but also had less recurrence. Colo-rectal cancer survivors who exercised lived longer than those who didn’t.
Yes, but how? For the general population, the recommendation for beneficial exercise is “at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 5 days a week.” Therefore, it makes sense that the cancer patient/survivor should aim for less at the start and gradually get into a high physical fitness level as endurance and strength increase.
Exercise specifically covers three areas: Flexibility, aerobic activity, and resistance training. This means that a rational, complete exercise program includes stretching (before and after or the warm-up and cool-down); brisk-walking, jogging or swimming, etc., and lifting weights or isometric exercises. Before starting, get clearance to exercise from your doctor. And then you may want to have a program put together by a physical therapist or a certified fitness trainer.
Yes, but what for? Exercise increases aerobic capacity, builds muscle and bone strength, prevents weight gain or promotes healthy weight loss. In addition, exercise improves mood and outlook, lowers risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, boosts self-confidence and for the cancer patient – reduces fatigue.
In cancer patients, stress, self-pity and depression are common. Exercise is a weapon against these because exercise helps release naturally occurring opioids called beta-endorphins. These give the “feel-good” high after a workout.
Besides, and probably more importantly, exercise is a way to go beyond feeling weak, helpless and vulnerable in any cancer. It’s a good way of taking charge and saying to your mind and body and spirit that “No, I’m not a victim and I’m getting over this!”
One last thing – you shouldn’t do it alone. If it’s possible, get your spouse, partner, friend or relative to join you in this journey back to physical fitness. Some have tried getting cancer survivors together to exercise as a group. This approach makes each person motivated with a common feeling that while cancer is what they all have – together, they can all have a healthy “come back.”
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