How does exercise help cancer patients?
- Fights fat. Cancer cells love body fat for fuel and they thrive in an inflammatory environment created by excess visceral fat. In 2012 in the United States, about 28,000 new cases of cancer in men (3.5 percent) and 72,000 in women (9.5 percent) were due to being overweight or obese. Exercise reduces body fat.
- Strengthens the heart. Chemotherapy and radiation can be hard on the cardiovascular system. Appropriate exercise may help overcome treatment side effects.
- Helps dispel stress. Diagnosis and treatment of cancer create a lot stress, and chronic elevation of stress hormones causes body-wide inflammation. The National Cancer Institute says, “Evidence from experimental studies does suggest that psychological stress can affect a tumor’s ability to grow and spread.” Exercise is a very effective way to get rid of built-up stress hormones and body wide tension. It also reduces inflammation and helps create an environment that fights off cancer instead of nurturing it.
- Reduces fatigue. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a not-for-profit alliance of 27 cancer centers, states that “research has… demonstrated that those who exercised regularly had 40 to 50 percent less fatigue, the primary complaint during treatment.”
- Protects bone and muscle strength. Chemo and some radiation can erode bone density. Making sure to get regular physical activity (including weight-bearing, if doc says OK) and eating a balanced diet with plenty of calcium (dark leafy greens, low-fat dairy) are essential for bone health.