Exercise is beneficial for cancer sufferers. Photo: iStock
Cancer patients looking to tackle their illness head-on are turning to exercise in droves.
Regular workouts help to reduce the fatigue and nausea associated with chemotherapy; increase appetite; improve muscle tone and stamina; and reduce the pain of cancer thanks to the release of endorphins – opiate-like painkilling chemicals.
Then there is the staggering effect exercise has on long-term recovery. The Journal of Clinical Oncology reports even modest amounts increase survival by 50-60%, with the strongest evidence currently for breast and colorectal cancers.
“Five years ago, oncologists were divided, some believing exercise was downright dangerous for cancer patients,” says Professor Rob Newton of Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, a leading researcher in the field.
The evidence that exercise is safe is now so strong that “the thinking has changed markedly”, says Newton. “Many oncologists now believe exercise is absolutely necessary for a patient’s recovery.”
Exercise also helps prevent cancer
Breast cancer: “A strong risk factor for breast cancer is body fat so obviously being physically active helps,” says Newton. High activity levels may also lower the level of oestrogen in the body – oestrogen can trigger some types of breast cancer.
Bowel cancer: Physical inactivity accounts for about 13-14% of colon cancer. Exercise is important because it helps food move faster through the gut. “This reduces the risk of cancer developing in a section along the way,” says Newton.
Prostate cancer: Newton believes that muscles – from exercise – lock up testosterone that would otherwise be binding to the prostate, “which is the main driver for cancer cell development”.
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