The journey to cancer recovery can be both physically and emotionally challenging. There’s the process of readjusting, being extremely mindful of –or paranoid about– your health, and coping with a changed world around you. These can be mentally strenuous and difficult to manage for cancer survivors. However, research shows that exercise can make that burden and transition much easier. If you or a loved one are recovering from cancer, here are the various ways exercise can play a pivotal role in enhancing your physical and emotional well-being.
- You enhance your strength and endurance: Treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy treat your cancer but can also lead to muscle weakness and fatigue. With regular exercise tailored to your abilities, you can counteract these effects, regain strength, and improve your stamina.
- You manage your weight: Many patients either lose or gain weight during cancer treatment. And even after treatment, maintaining a healthy weight can be difficult. With exercise, you can burn enough calories and maintain a healthy body composition.
- You manage your pain: Cancer-related pain and discomfort are commonplace with survivors, but exercise is a great way to manage them. You can try smaller, low-impact exercises like yoga to improve flexibility and reduce muscle tension. Exercise also prompts the release of endorphins, natural painkillers that can enhance your physical and mental well-being.
- You improve your immune system: In addition to inducing natural painkillers and helping with weight management, exercise has also been shown to increase the production and activity of immune cells in your body. This increase is essential to help your body defend itself against infections and recurring cancer cells.
- It can help reduce your anxiety and depression: the emotional toll of the cancer journey can be overwhelming, even for survivors. By triggering the release of serotonin and dopamine, exercise is a proven mood booster and can help reduce symptoms and feelings of depression and anxiety.
- You regain a sense of normalcy: readjusting in your normal activities after cancer is nothing short of challenging, but with exercise acting as a mood booster, you regain a sense of normalcy, accomplishment, and control. Physical activity also acts as a stress reliever, improving your sleep pattern, reducing tension, and promoting relaxation. This can also boost your self-esteem and confidence.
- You can make friends: Have you ever been in a group exercise or communal spin class? These classes offer a sense of community and social connection, which can be especially important after cancer. Here, you can build camaraderie and feel less isolated about your cancer recovery journey.
So far, we’ve seen the physical and emotional benefits of physical activity, but exercise isn’t a one-size-fits-all. After all, cancer survivors have diverse needs and physical capabilities. So, before you start an exercise regimen, it is essential you consult your healthcare team to determine the most appropriate and safe approach to exercising. You can do this through:
- Individualized exercise programs that consider your physical condition, treatment history, and health issues.
- Going gradually by starting with gentle exercise and then increasing the intensity and duration of your workouts as you build both strength and endurance.
- Getting supervision and guidance from certain physical therapists experienced in cancer recovery
- And by listening to your body and adjusting your routine accordingly to avoid overexertion.
Exercise offers numerous physical and emotional benefits that significantly improve the overall well-being of cancer survivors. However, you must approach physical activities and workouts cautiously and gradually. Seek guidance from professionals and integrate exercise into your recovery journey. It’s a significant step towards healing and reclaiming your life.