Long Term Health of Cancer Survivors at Risk from Lack of Exercise
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Rest may be the first thing on the mind of cancer patients after a long-fought battle with their disease. However a new study suggests that cancer survivors could be at greater risk of serious long-term health problems and recurrence of cancer because they do not get enough exercise.
The report, released recently by the British cancer charity, Macmillan Cancer Support, entitled “Move More,” states that 1.6 million cancer survivors are not physically active enough. The new evidence demonstrates how important exercise is to the recovery and long-term health of cancer patients.
The report notes that:
- Breast cancer patients’ risk of recurrence and of dying from the disease can be reduced by up to 40 percent by doing recommended levels of physical activity.
- Bowel cancer patients’ risk of recurrence and of dying from the disease can be reduced by around 50 percent by doing significant amounts of physical activity.
- Prostate cancer patients’ risk of dying from the disease can be reduced by up to 30 percent by doing recommended levels of physical activity.
After treatment all cancer patients can reduce their risk of getting side effects of cancer and its treatment by doing recommended levels of physical activity. These include fatigue, depression, osteoporosis and heart disease.
Despite strong emerging evidence that being physically active could dramatically improve cancer patients’ recovery and long-term health, a survey by the study’s authors found that many health professionals are not aware of this and the majority are not talking to their patients about it. Over half (56 percent) of GPs, practice nurses, oncologists and cancer nurses do not speak to their patients about the possible benefits of physical activity, or at best they speak to just a few of them. This rises to 72 percent of GPs and 60 percent of oncologists.
Traditionally cancer patients were told to rest after their cancer treatment and to take it easy, yet the study authors say that this approach is outdated and could actually put cancer patients at risk.
“Movement is the driving force behind many systems in our bodies,” said Karen Gilbert, national director of oncology rehabilitation for Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “After cancer treatment, it is crucial to redefine ‘normal’ physical activity because adjustments during treatment may have been dramatic. By re-introducing activities into our daily routines, we can even kick start our bodies to gravitate toward doing things we enjoy that require more energy expenditure.”
According to Gilbert, this may be in the form of exercise, but could also mean getting up and moving around after sitting at the computer for 30 minutes, playing catch with the dog, dancing or attending community events.
“The question is, ‘How much is enough and how much is too much?’” Gilbert said. “Generally, after three to five minutes of rest, patients should feel like they could get back up and do more. As always, patients should consult their physician regarding exercise based on their individual health status and goals.”
Read more about the benefits of exercise after cancer in this recent NY Times blog: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/the-benefits-of-exercise-after-cancer/?nl=health&emc=healthupdateema8