Exercise benefits are well known and documented, but traditional wisdom says that anyone who is sick should rest and avoid vigorous activity. For people living with mesothelioma and other types of cancer, that traditional advice has been turned on its head. While someone going through treatments for cancer may not be able to do workouts that re too extreme, an appropriate amount of physical activity is actually beneficial.
Research is proving that exercise for people with cancer can help reduce pain, increase energy and fight fatigue, boost mood, improve mobility, manage side effects of treatment, and generally improve outcomes and quality of life. If you are living with mesothelioma, talk to your doctor or oncologist about how you could be more active and what your limitations are.
Safe Exercise Now Recommended for Cancer Patients
The American College of Sports Medicine created an expert panel to discuss and release guidelines for exercise for patients undergoing cancer treatment or having completed treatment. The 13 experts on the panel concluded that the basic guideline for people living with cancer is to avoid inactivity. What that means more specifically depends on each patient’s unique needs, abilities, and limitations, but in general, cancer patients should be getting some amount of physical exercise.
The panel came to its conclusion by reviewing research that demonstrates cancer patients get a number of benefits from being active. Those who get the most benefits are patients who have completed treatment. The benefits are numerous, but all come together to impact patients in the most meaningful way, by improving quality of life.
The guidelines released by the panel include more specific recommendations for particular types of cancer for which there is the most information. The panel emphasizes that workouts need to be modified based on the limitations and risks for each patient. For instance, in men with prostate cancer, hormone treatments can cause bones to become weaker, so the risks of fractures need to be considered when planning exercise. There are no specific guidelines for mesothelioma patients, but any cancer patient can work with their doctors, physical therapists, and other experts to create a safe and effective exercise plan.
Exercise and Strength Training Improve Fitness and Muscle Condition
As with healthy people, being active is important for overall fitness and strength. Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, builds muscle and reduces age-related muscle loss, strengthens bones, and reduces the risks of many chronic health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease. Mesothelioma patients are at risk for suffering from loss of fitness and muscle mass from being inactive. Even a little bit of exercise, like regular walks can help maintain fitness and reduce muscle loss.
Exercise is a Mood Booster
Another great reason to get active while battling cancer is that exercise is proven to boost mood, reducing feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. Living with mesothelioma puts patients at risk for experiencing these negative emotions, even to a debilitating degree. Exercise is not a cure, but it can help patients find a healthy way to cope with these feelings and to redirect focus to something more positive, like getting fit, being out with friends, and feeling stronger and in more control of their bodies.
Activity Fights Fatigue
Fatigue is a very common side effect of cancer treatments and a symptom of many types of cancer. Most patients report lacking energy and some even experience severe fatigue. Exercise is proven to boost energy and limit fatigue in cancer patients. According to research, patients who exercise to some degree experience between 40 and 50 percent less fatigue than those who are inactive. It can be difficult to get up and try exercise when feeling so fatigued, but the benefits of doing so are real.
Exercise Stimulates Appetite
Many mesothelioma patients will suffer from a loss of appetite. This can be caused by the cancer itself, but also be treatments like chemotherapy. Nausea is a common side effect, which leads to appetite loss and even weight loss and malnutrition. Being active is proven to stimulate appetite, which can help cancer patients feel motivated to eat more and to put weight back on.
Being Active Improves Mobility
Pain, like fatigue, is a common complaint of people living with mesothelioma. As with fatigue, pain can make getting up and being active a challenge, but the pay offs are significant. Regular exercise can reduce pain, improve flexibility and help patients get more mobile. With greater mobility, a patient can get up more often, engage in normal activities more, and take care of daily chores with less assistance, which in turn gives a patient a greater sense of control.
Exercising Reduces Symptoms of Chemotherapy
Most cancer patients will undergo chemotherapy for treatment. It is one of the most effective ways to shrink tumors, but it also causes a number of side effects that range from mild to debilitating. Studies have found that moderate exercise can significantly reduce those side effects. One study, for example, found that neuropathy, the shooting pains that chemotherapy may cause, is reduced by gentle exercise.
Exercise Improves Quality of Life
One of the most important things about getting more exercise as a cancer patient is improving quality of life. Often the main measure of success in treating patients for cancer is survival time or remission. While this is important, more health care workers are starting to focus on quality of life as an equally important measurement. With exercise mesothelioma patients can enjoy less pain and fatigue, more mobility, a better appetite, an improved mood, a greater sense of control over life, and the ability to get out more and feel less isolated.
Work with an Expert and with Your Medical Team
There are so many great benefits of getting exercise if you are living with mesothelioma or another type of cancer, but there are risks too. It is crucial that you talk to your doctors before you try any type of activity, no matter how gentle it may seem. Your doctors can tell you what types of exercise would be best, what your limitations are, and can even recommend a trainer or physical therapist to work with for the best results. Some hospitals or cancer treatments centers may even have these experts on staff to help patients use exercise as part of treatment. When you’re ready to feel better while living with cancer, you are ready to start getting active.