Most cancer-related headlines detail our ever-accumulating, increased risks. Our obesity, inactivity and daily habits continuously contribute to the likelihood of disease, and as such, we are overwhelmed with a barrage of negative articles. But recent studies have offered us an ounce of optimism. Cancer death rates are down! Since 1993, increased access to care has led to a steady decrease, falling, most recently, at a rate of 2.1 percent a year. It’s phenomenal news, illustrating the power of prevention, early detection and proper treatment. However, a lesser risk of death does not turn the disease into a walk in the park. Working through cancer is a difficult task that could benefit from any and all coping-mechanisms. Fortunately, there are some available, one of which is exercise.
In two separate studies, researchers examined the effects of exercise on breast cancer patients. The first focused specifically on yoga and the participants’ quality of life. It found that women, not going through chemotherapy, experienced significant improvements with better emotional, social and spiritual well being and less distress, after attending regular yoga classes. Those in chemotherapy did not show similar improvements; however that is likely due to the treatment’s negative side effects. And, as the second study found, there are other benefits to exercise. When 242 women, beginning chemotherapy, were assigned to one of three groups (usual care, supervised resistance exercise or supervised aerobic exercise), those in either workout regime noted increased self-esteem. The aerobic exercisers had better aerobic fitness and percent body fat, while the resistance team had improved lower and upper body strength, lean body mass and chemotherapy completion rates. So overall, continuing to exercise or beginning exercise after cancer diagnosis should help you in several ways, but don’t go crazy.
The women in both studies were assigned to exercise programs that had been specifically designed for them. If you have breast cancer or any other form of cancer, talk to your doctor before beginning a regime. He will let you know what exercises may be too intense or may target particularly vulnerable parts of your body. He may also have information on programs specifically designed for cancer patients. More and more hospitals and cancer centers are creating such programs, so you aren’t without your options. Just make sure you choose the safest, most beneficial route.