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Physical activity in cancer

Maintaining a balanced lifestyle through physical activity
In the previous sections, the benefits of adequate diet, monitoring, medications as needed have been explored. Historically, however, the role of exercise in cancer has received much less attention. Structured exercise programs are an important part of the management of many chronic diseases, including cancer.

Current evidence has shown that physical activity during and after cancer treatment has beneficial effects on a number of physical and psychosocial factors. Recent guidelines for cancer survivors have suggested that physical activity should be an integral and continuous part of care for all cancer survivors.1 Indeed, studies have shown that regular physical activity is associated with reduced risk in cancer recurrence for some cancer including breast, colorectal, and prostate. In short, exercise is now accepted as a key aspect in treatment of cancer, especially if the disease has been controlled.

The benefits of staying active
There are numerous benefits of physical activity in cancer patients. These include symptom relief, improvements in physical and psychological functioning, and overall improvement in the quality of life. While very few studies have specifically examined cancer cachexia, the problems associated with the syndrome - loss of muscle function, fitness, physical inactivity, and unpleasant symptoms - are all typical targets of an exercise program designed for a person with cancer.

During cancer treatment, for many reasons, people tend to become less active. At times, this may be the right thing to do as the body needs to rest. However, there is the risk in developing a cycle of disability where symptoms lead to inactivity, and the onset of symptoms that progressively lower exercise tolerance. An exercise program, alongside cancer treatment, may reduce the risk of entering such a cycle. Supervised exercise programs must also be based around cancer care, whether it be chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery.

What’s important is to try to stay active and to carry on doing the activities that were enjoyed before cancer, if one is able to. Additionally, it is important for both patients and caregivers to maintain a realistic, positive attitude, as a diagnosis of cancer can cause significant psychological distress.

To learn more about psycho-oncological interventions and how they can help patients and their families, please visit the next section on Psycho-oncological Counselling in Cancer Care.


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