Empower Your Cancer Recovery with Exercise – Ranjana Srivastava


Understanding the Cancer Journey: The Importance of Exercise

“Don’t take it personally, doctor, but it has been a dreadful experience.” Far from taking offence, you should sympathize with your patient because since her cancer diagnosis 15 months ago, she has been through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Not to mention the countless hospitalizations and the psychological suffering that no healthcare system can completely alleviate.

“What if I have done all this, and it still comes back?” This is a question filled with the palpable fear every patient who has battled with cancer has. From experience, they know what not to say, especially right after a diagnosis. The point is not to promise a cure, but to highlight good prognostic facts and therapeutic advances. Patients need reassurance that you and your team will be there for them in the years to come.

The Role of Exercise in Cancer Treatment

Meanwhile, there is a prescription every cancer patient deserves: a prescription based on evidence for an action controlled by the individual. Yes, that prescription is for exercise. While exercise does not replace cancer treatment, it indeed acts as a valuable and underutilized companion.

Many patients endure the rigors of chemotherapy for small gains at the risk of significant toxicity. However, there is mounting evidence that even moderate exercise can match the benefits of the most promising cancer treatments. The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise every week.

Scientific Studies Supporting Exercise for Cancer Patients

A recent study involving nearly 12,000 cancer patients showed promising results. It was found that meeting the exercise guidelines was associated with a 25% reduced risk of mortality. It turn out to be that any level of exercise, from below guidelines to exceeding guidelines, was beneficial.

These findings underline the oft-repeated mantra that any exercise is better than no exercise. Exercise influences the body in many ways, affecting inflammation, immunity, cellular stress, and insulin regulation, each of which can influence cancer progression.

Turning Exercise into a Routine for Cancer Patients

In the same way as they receive chemotherapy based on individual parameters, patients should receive a tailored exercise prescription at the start of their treatment. However, they should note that exercise does not have to be expensive: a brisk walk, a gentle jog, or a bike ride are easily accessible to most people.

Indeed, when it comes to exercise, the good news keeps getting better. This is the prescription that every cancer patient deserves.

Ranjana Srivastava is an Australian oncologist, award-winning author, and Fulbright scholar. Her latest book is called A Better Death.

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