After the National Cancer Organization issued formal guidelines recommending exercise as part of cancer treatment, many have been questioning the effectiveness of this recommendation; particularly, given that many cancer patients under treatment experience periods of weakness in which exercising seems rather impossible. (Related topic: rotator cuff physical therapy)
However, this is not just about exercising or signing up at the nearest gym for spinning classes. This exercise routine should be embedded as part of standard practice in cancer care and viewed as physical therapy more than exercise itself.
Physical therapy can help in diminishing the adverse effects of cancer and its treatment. Therefore, all members of a multidisciplinary cancer team should promote physical activity and help their patients adhere to an exercise routine that benefits their condition, preferably, provided by a physical therapist with experience in cancer care.
The amount of evidence backing up the benefits of exercise during cancer treatment is indisputable and withholding exercise from patients is probably harmful. In fact, there are hundreds of studies showing real, tangible benefits of exercise for patients with a variety of different cancers and at different stages.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that cancer patients can stick to exercise and physical therapy only as a way of improving their condition. Treatment of the illness is still necessary. Nevertheless, physical therapy, as an extra aid for cancer patients’ care, is highly beneficial for the patients’ health and symptoms. Particularly, for patients undergoing cancer treatment, it’s documented that the benefits are rather abundant. An analysis of 61 clinical trials of women with all stages of breast cancer, those who underwent an exercise program during treatment had significantly improved quality of life, fitness, energy, and strength whilst considerably reducing anxiety, depression, and lower body mass index and waist circumference compared with the regular care groups.
Another analysis of 28 trials which involved over 1,000 participants with advanced cancers (including leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, lung, breast, GI, and prostate) showed that an exercise program during treatment was associated with significantly improved physical function, energy levels, weight/BMI, psychosocial function, sleep quality and overall quality of life.
Cancer patients must avoid inactivity and be as physically active as they are able in order to see the benefits. Physical therapists recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, jogging, cycling, swimming) each week; and two to three resistance exercise (e.g., lifting weights) sessions each week involving moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups.