There is plenty of research—and it is increasing every day—showing that exercise is beneficial for cancer survivors, whether during or after treatment. In a recent study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Dr. Andrea Cheville, an onco-physiatrist (cancer rehabilitation physician) and colleagues at Mayo Clinic interviewed 20 patients with advanced lung cancer about exercise, its relationship to their symptoms, and the role of their oncology team in counseling them about exercise (video). Not surprisingly, participants considered their usual everyday activities as "exercise". While important in helping to maintain function, everyday activities generally do not reach the threshold to help maintain or improve overall fitness. In Dr. Cheville’s study, exercise was defined as "a systematic way of stressing the body to increase flexibility, stamina, and strength.”
Systematic and regular exercise causes biochemical changes in the body, not unlike medicine. The route of administration however, is different. You can't take an "exercise pill", you have to actively participate. The changes that exercise brings are beneficial. For example, exercise can help reduce fatigue. While this may seem counterintuitive, especially while living with cancer, taking it easy can actually increase fatigue. This is because the body becomes "deconditioned"—the less the body does, the less it can do. Add the fatiguing effect of chemotherapy, and you have a recipe for reduced whole body strength and fitness. Enjoyable and regular exercise is a powerful antidote to the fatiguing impact of cancer and treatment.
In our cancer rehabilitation programs, we often hear survivors express fear that exercise might cause physical harm. Some of the participants in Dr. Cheville's study expressed a similar concern. When exercise is done with a good understanding of what is too much, what is too little, and how to modulate its intensity during cycles of treatment, exercise not only enhances physical and mental well-being, but also helps to reduce symptoms related to cancer and its treatment. In addition to fatigue, these symptoms include shortness of breath, pain, insomnia, malaise and reduced endurance.
The study showed...