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Exercise: Good therapy, too

For years, studies have shown that regular exercise seems to help prevent certain forms of cancer, such as breast, prostate and colorectal.

Now, scientists are finding strong evidence that exercise during cancer therapy and recovery has benefits, too.

Of course, workouts must be suited to the patient’s capabilities during treatment. After all, 70 percent of chemotherapy patients suffer from fatigue. But with a doctor’s or a physical therapist’s guidance, many cancer survivors have exercised their way to more tolerable therapeutic sessions and quicker recoveries.

Keep moving

Physical activity increases our energy reserves. In treating cancer, this benefit can blunt the fatigue and weakness brought about by chemotherapy or radiation. As a result, patients have better days—their endurance and mood improves; pain, constipation and stiffness are reduced; and their appetite increases. What’s more, exercisers have a stronger immune response and less nausea from treatments.

Depending on the type of cancer you have and your prognosis, you can build a program of aerobic exercise, strength training or both based on these American Cancer Society guidelines:

  • Think big. Focus on large muscle groups: shoulders, chest, back, thighs. Walking, jogging, swimming, cycling and dancing are good ways to keep these muscles strong and limber.
  • Be reasonable. Exercise at low or medium intensity, only doing what is comfortable, safe and enjoyable. Take as many short breaks as necessary to complete your workout.
  • Start small. Warm up for a few minutes, then try for 15 minutes of exercise. Gradually work up to 20 to 60 minutes, three to five times a week. Remember to cool down for five to 10 minutes after each session.
  • Put on weight. If your doctor approves, do modest weight-lifting exercises. Situps and push-ups use your body weight to strengthen muscles, or try arm curls and triceps curls with hand weights or chest presses with a barbell.
  • Make other plans. If 15 minutes is too much at first, don’t give up! Try for three five-minute workouts during the day, gradually modifying your routine until you can do one 15-minute session, three to five days a week.

Caution: Stop exercising and call your doctor right away if you feel progressively weaker or feel more pain, or if headaches, blurry vision, numbness or tingling occur.

Sticking with it

There will be days when exercise is the last thing you feel like doing. At times like this, staying motivated is vital. Some tips to overcoming the blahs:

  • Join a group. Exercising alone can be dull. Ask a friend or co-worker to work out with you.
  • Reward yourself. Set attainable goals for your program, then treat yourself when you meet or beat them.
  • Mix it up. Introduce variety to your workouts. Enroll in a yoga or tai chi class, buy a bike or join the Y.
  • Dosomething. Even if you can’t exert yourself, try to maintain normal activities such as gardening, church-going or mowing the lawn. Insist on doing for yourself what you can—that way, you stay active.