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Top 5 Benefits of Strength Training and Exercise for Cancer Patients

For someone struggling with any type of cancer, exercise may be the last thing on his or her mind. Cancer and its treatments cause symptoms ranging from pain to shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and other symptoms that do not seem conducive to physical activity. However, experts urge mesothelioma patients and other cancer patients to begin a guided exercise routine because it has been found to reduce treatment side effects, lower fatigue, and improve overall quality of life.

A good exercise routine should include both strength training and cardiovascular activity. Building muscle through strength training is particularly important for cancer patients because it helps to reverse and prevent muscle loss. Being stronger helps reduce pain, improve mobility, mitigate cancer side effects, reduce fatigue, and make life more enjoyable.

Workout weights


Experts Encourage Cancer Patients to Be Active

Patients with all types of cancer, including mesothelioma, are encouraged by experts to be activity and avoid inactivity. Exercise for someone struggling with cancer may look very different than for a healthy individual, but even highly modified and restricted, exercise is beneficial and important. A panel convened by the American College of Sports Medicine set out physical activity guidelines in 2009 for cancer patients, both those going through treatment and those who have completed treatment.

The guidelines state that these patients need exercise because it improves quality of life, reduces fatigue, and improves overall physical functioning. Researchers have seen improvements and gains even when comparing patients who take short walks daily to those who get no physical activity at all. The guidelines include accommodations that can be made for people with specific symptoms or types of cancer, but the overarching message is that, if possible, cancer patients should be getting some amount of regular exercise. Here are some of the top reasons why:

1. Strength Training and Exercise Relieve Fatigue

One of the most difficult things about living with cancer and its treatments is fatigue. Most patients experience fatigue that goes beyond normal tiredness. It is an overwhelming feeling that prevents a person from even wanting to get out of bed. With fatigue, everything about life is more difficult, from the necessary things like going to treatment appointments to those things that give life meaning and joy, like spending time with family and friends.

Exercise of all types, but also strength training, has been proven to significantly reduce fatigue in cancer patients. According to research, those who exercise regularly experience between 40 percent to 50 percent less fatigue than those patients that are inactive. It may be difficult to overcome the hurdle of fatigue to begin exercising, but once you begin it makes a huge impact on reducing excessive and chronic tiredness.

2. Strength Training Reduces Muscle Loss

Another really important benefit of strength training for cancer patients is the prevention and reduction of muscle loss. It is not uncommon for mesothelioma and other cancer patients to experience muscle loss. Even younger patients will lose muscle from the cancer and its treatments. Being active, and especially engaging in strength training activities, reduces muscle loss, prevents it, and can even build up muscle mass.

3. Building Muscle Improves Mobility, Activity, and Quality of Life

Cancer patients often experience a lot of pain, which can seriously impact mobility and overall quality of life. Treatments for cancer, like surgery, can further limit mobility. Mobility is further affected by lost muscle mass. With impaired mobility it becomes more challenging to engage in the kinds of activities a person previously enjoyed and even to leave the house. Strength training can help by improving muscle mass,  reducing fatigue, increasing flexibility, and making it easier to get out, to enjoy life and being around other people.

4. Having More Muscle Mass Stimulates Appetite

Strength training and other forms of physical activity are great for promoting appetite. Cancer patients often lose their appetites, usually as a side effect of the nausea and changes to smell and taste caused by chemotherapy. It is important for patients to get adequate nutrition and to eat well so their bodies can heal, but this is difficult when your appetite is gone. Cancer patients feel like eating more when they engage in strength exercises because it stimulates the appetite.

5. Being Active Relieves Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Living with cancer can cause physical complications as well as mental health consequences. Patients with cancer often struggle with stress, or even clinical anxiety or depression. Your doctor can guide you through coping with these and getting professional help if needed, but strength training can help too. Exercise is a proven mood booster, but it also helps by giving you a new purpose, giving you a new challenge to focus on, relieving your fatigue, and providing you with social interactions.

Working with a Trainer or Physical Therapist

Cancer patient should begin strength training with first talking to his medical team. Your doctor needs to know if you are thinking of getting started with an exercise program. He of she can tell you if there is a good reason not to start yet or if you should have some limitations on your workout.

Talking to your doctor is important, but so is working with a professional. Have guidance when you start a strength training routine. A physical therapist or a trainer who has worked with cancer patients before will be able to design a routine for you that takes your limitations into consideration. Even healthy people can get injured doing strength training without guidance for form and other factors.

Strength training is recommended for most cancer patients. Light strength work can even benefit elderly patients. In a few cases a patient may be too sick to get any activity, but for most people a little bit of exercise provides a huge range of significant benefits. Building muscle mass, improving appetite, reducing stress and fatigue, and enjoying a better quality of life are all possible with an professionally-guided and individualized strength training routine.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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