Staying Active to Stay Alive
Physical activity has long been recognized as a crucial element for maintaining good health. However, recent studies have revealed an even more compelling reason to incorporate regular physical activity into our lives – it can significantly reduce the risk of a cancer diagnosis, reduce treatment side effects and reduce the risk of reoccurrence.
In this post, we’re about to uncover the relationship between fitness and cancer by exploring how staying active can positively impact those battling this life-threatening disease.
Fitness - A Broad but Essential Term
The term “fitness” is such an incredibly broad term and encompasses various forms of physical activity.
Fitness in its most simple definition includes anything that involves the movement of skeletal muscles and requires more energy than resting. So how do you start to incorporate “fitness’ into your treatment plan?
From simple tasks like brisk walks and household chores to more intense activities like running, biking, and weight lifting, all fall in the wide spectrum of fitness – so the choice is yours!
The most important thing you want to start off with is by asking yourself how you’re feeling today.
Maybe you just had chemo and the thought of getting out of bed to shower has you drained. This is when you should focus on the small movements throughout the day!
Stretching is a really great way to help get your body moving, and the best part is you can do them laying down or watching TV.
If you’re starting to feel like the chemo is out of your system, then this is the time when you can start to incorporate more active movements like household chores, playing with your kids, or even dare I say hitting the gym.
Listening to what your body needs and not what your mind is saying is the most critical part of incorporating fitness into your treatment plan. Learning what language your body is trying to talk to you in is something we all could be a little better at!
The Correlation between Physical Activity and Breast Cancer
Numerous studies have shed light on the biological effects of physical activity on the body, especially concerning cancer prevention and management. By leading a more active lifestyle, individuals can lower hormone levels, prevent insulin spikes, reduce inflammation, prevent obesity, and strengthen the immune system.
Adhering to the minimum physical activity requirements set by the U.S. Department of Health (150 minutes of moderate-intense aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities and balance training) can help not only prevent cancer but also reduce the risk of other comorbidities.
Bringing it back to my previous example, what if you just had chemo though and those numbers just seem like climbing Mount Everest?
This is where I remind not just myself, but my clients that fitness is also considered a form of stress – the good kind of stress though. When going through chemotherapy, radiation, or whatever your treatment may incorporate – that’s also stress.
Your body is fighting an internal battle that you can’t see and it’s using up a lot of your energy. That moment, when you’re getting up from bed and going to the couch in the living room, could leave you out of breath – so wouldn’t you classify that as something moderately intense or even vigorously intense?
I sure do! Try not to focus on the big numbers and instead break down those numbers into a daily goal. Can you move your body for 20 minutes each day?
Fitness During Cancer Treatment: A Path to Enhanced Quality of Life
For those diagnosed with cancer, maintaining physical activity during treatment can significantly improve their quality of life.
Staying physically active has been shown to reduce treatment side effects, such as fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Moreover, it can increase appetite and help individuals maintain a healthy weight, crucial factors in combating the disease.
While physical activity can yield tremendous benefits during cancer treatment, it’s essential to strike a balance between staying active and allowing the body to rest and heal.
Everyone’s body responds differently to treatment, so finding an appropriate exercise routine that works for each individual is crucial.
This is why I urge so many patients to find someone to work with that understands how treatments like chemotherapy affect the body and how to create a training program that correlates.
Remember that strength training during treatment is absolutely possible and provides its own benefits to counteract treatments like building up your bone density!
#Exercise4Survival - Changing the Mindset
The popular hashtag trend #Exercise4Survival, initiated by the TNBC Thrivers group, has gained significant attention on social media. It emphasizes the importance of staying active not to conform to societal beauty standards but rather to fight for survival.
Redefining the purpose of physical activity during cancer treatment can empower individuals to prioritize their health and well-being above all else. It becomes a powerful tool for enhancing resilience, promoting mental and emotional well-being by fostering a sense of control and empowerment in the face of adversity.
I used to work out solely to lose weight, get ready for summer, or fit into a cute new outfit I bought. Now? I’m moving my body to ensure I live to 40, 60… damn 100 years old and to be able to enjoy a life where I’m moving without pain.
Is There Anything Off Limits?
While physical activity can be beneficial, certain contraindications should be considered when developing an exercise regimen during cancer treatment.
For instance, peripheral neuropathy, a condition caused by nerve damage, would make it pretty difficult to either hold a dumbbell or ensure your feet are firmly planted on the ground.
Does this mean that movements that require you to hold on to something should be avoided? No, we just need to safely modify so you don’t hurt yourself (or others).
If you experience peripheral neuropathy there are exercises that are specifically designed to help you gain feeling back, so again it’s critical that you work with someone who understands how this affects your training plan.
Lymphedema and Exercise
Those who have undergone breast cancer surgery involving lymph node biopsy or axillary lymph node dissection are at risk of developing lymphedema for life. External beam radiation further increases this risk.
It’s essential to monitor for symptoms such as swelling and heaviness in affected areas and promptly seek medical evaluation if any signs of lymphedema appear.
But does this mean you shouldn’t be physically active? Absolutely not.
Although lymphedema (at the moment) is a very understudied disease, the studies that have been conducted show a positive correlation when implementing a fitness routine to the risk of lymphedema.
If you’ve been prescribed a compression garment, it’s always recommended to wear it when doing anything physically active (along with flying). This is to help our bodies utilize the internal pumps of our muscles!
Always consult with a lymphedema specialist to help learn proper lymphatic massages, and engaging in lymphatic drainage exercises can be instrumental in reducing the risk and managing symptoms.
Embrace Your Unique Fitness Journey
During any breast cancer diagnosis, it’s crucial to remember that your fitness journey is not going to resemble someone else’s.
Each person’s body responds differently to treatment, and that’s perfectly okay. Take your time, listen to your body, and remember that resting when needed is just as vital as being active.
By redefining the purpose of fitness, we can empower ourselves to prioritize our health and well-being.
Remember that staying active is about improving our overall quality of life during and after cancer treatment. Stay active, stay vigilant, and take care of yourself throughout your fitness journey – because life is a marathon, not a sprint.