Exercise is Medicine

How exercise is medicine for cancer patients

Years of research has identified exercise as a vital part of the medical management and treatment of cancer. This research has shown that individuals with cancer who participate in structured exercise programming have a reduced risk of cancer-related mortality, lower risk of cancer recurrence and consistently exhibit fewer and less severe treatment-related side effects.

Evidence-based guidelines recommend that exercise be included as part of a patient’s treatment plan in order to minimise decline in physical function and fatigue levels, as well as assist the patient in tolerating and recovering from cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

This exercise programming should be performed by a qualified health professional who has a thorough understanding of the disease pathophysiology, any other co-morbidities and how these affect the functional capacity of the body prior to, during and following cancer treatment.

One of the most commonly reported side effects of cancer treatment that patients are faced with is fatigue. Higher levels of fatigue can cause a patient to reduce their physical activity levels.

We know that many cancer treatments have side-effects that cause reductions in functional capacity by themselves, and this additional reduction in physical activity levels can lead to further declines in an individual’s aerobic capacity, muscular strength and/or endurance and power. This leaves a patient more susceptible to the development of other medical conditions, as well as less able to tolerate the treatment they are undergoing.

Exercise has been shown to be beneficial not only post-cancer-treatment - in order to regain physical function - but also during treatment as it helps to prevent the deterioration of physical function and mitigate increasing fatigue.

This is true for patients at all stages of diagnosis as well. Individuals with advanced cancer can also benefit from regular exercise with reports of maintained independence and quality of life, as well as reductions in side effects like fatigue and nausea.

Evidence suggests that patients undergoing cancer treatment exhibit considerable impairments in cardiorespiratory fitness, likely a direct result of the cardiotoxic effects of anti-cancer therapy as well as the indirect consequences of therapy (e.g. deconditioning due to increased fatigue). Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that this reduction in cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with increased symptoms, reductions in functional independence and an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality.

Aerobic and resistance training have been shown to elicit improvements in self-esteem and quality of life, physical fitness, measures of body composition, blood lipid profiles and treatment completion rates in both male and female patients receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Reductions in psychological stress, fatigue and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors are of huge importance to patient-related outcomes for individuals undergoing anticancer therapy/treatment - to minimise the imposition the condition has on their quality of life and physical day-to-day functioning.

With patients undergoing treatment, it is important to have a clear understanding of the timing of treatments and establish open communication with the patient around how they feel in response to this treatment. Managing potential treatment-related side effects such as fatigue and adjusting exercise prescription on a daily basis is of huge importance. For example, a patient may experience an increase in fatigue the day after receiving a chemotherapy treatment and, therefore, exercise intensities for both aerobic and resistance training may need to be tapered back, or it may be more appropriate to focus on mobility and flexibility training that day if other side effects such as nausea are prevalent.

It is important to openly discuss this with the patient and explain why these changes may need to be implemented to ensure the safety of the patient, as well as ensuring that the session will be of benefit to them - so that exercise can be used as an effective medical treatment for these patients to reduce treatment-related side effects, maintain functional independence and improve quality of life.

Axis Exercise Clinic

Could your patient benefit from a prescribed and monitored exercise programme? Our specialist Exercise Clinic is the perfect solution. Not only are all our programmes tailor-made for each patient taking into consideration their condition, but they will have access to a state of the art gym and monitored exercise sessions to help them through the programme.

If this sounds like something you or your patient could benefit from, make an appointment to come in and see us.

To make an appointment call 09 521 9846