As America becomes increasingly unhealthy and sedentary the risk of developing cancer for your average American progressively increases. In fact, it is estimated that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women in the US will be afflicted with some form of the disease in their lifetime. Lung cancer situating itself as the third most common, after skin and breast cancer.
As scary as that may sound, a cancer diagnosis does not need to be a death sentence, with chances of survival likewise increasing by the decade, as we learn more about this terrible condition. Fighting it should not be left to the scientists, however, as a few lifestyle changes have been shown to significantly improve outcomes.
Quitting smoking and a good diet are often invoked as beneficial, but the positive effects of physical activity and playing sports for lung cancer patients have lately received increased attention.
How keeping active reduces other cancer risks
Naturally, the best way of “treating” any disease is not getting it in the first place. Common wisdom tells us that active people, who spend at least a couple of days a week performing some physical activity tend to stay healthier than their sedentary counterparts.
For cancer prevention, the benefits of regular exercise might be greater than we previously thought. An analysis of over 150 studies examining the relation between physical activity and incidences of cancer showed that regularly working out can considerably decrease the risks of developing many forms of cancer.
The most significant results were recorded for colon cancer, with an estimated risk reduction between 40-50%. Scientists believe this is not just incidental, due to lower rates of obesity (a serious risk factor) in people who regularly practice sports, but physical activity in and of itself can be responsible for triggering body mechanisms that actively work towards improving the health of the colon.
Nearly as strong a connection was found for breast cancer, with a 30-40% risk reduction, especially in post-menopausal women. Regular exercise could also decrease the chances of developing prostate cancer by 10-30%. Other forms of the condition where physical activity was seen to have a prophylactic effect are endometrium, lung cancer, liver cancer, ovary and testicular cancers.
How regular exercise can help during treatment
It is widely acknowledged today that keeping active during cancer treatment is overall beneficial for the patient’s mood and general health. Depending on the form and the severity of the condition, the intensity and duration of recommended exercises can vary widely. Most clinics offer physical fitness programs tailored to their patients, while various charities and foundations organize sports programs for people affected by cancer.
One of the best acknowledged benefits of regular workouts during treatment is in reducing “cancer fatigue”, the feeling of general tiredness associated with cancer and cancer therapy. Patients who put themselves under a regular exercise routine reported feeling as much as 40 to 50% less fatigued than did people who chose to stay in bed.
Regular physical exercise can also alleviate some of the ill effects associated with chemotherapy. These include loss of muscle mass, muscle weakness, and the loss of balance that are common symptoms of chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy. Likewise, the osteoporosis, or decrease in bone mass that affects many hospital patients can be reduced or even prevented with physical activity.
Keeping the patient’s body weight in check during and after chemotherapy appears increasingly important, as recent studies have shown that chances of recurrence for many forms of cancer positively correlate with weight gain.
Finally, practicing sports for cancer patients offers the same benefits as for everyone else: an increase in muscle tone, muscle mass, and overall body strength; improved circulation, motor control, lung capacity, and last bot not least, a happier mood.
How much to exercise?
As we noted above, the daily exercise routine of a cancer patient/survivor is heavily dependent on personal factors, but some rough guidelines for the “average adult” are available from the American College of Sports Medicine:
At least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity are recommended per week, or 75 minutes for intense aerobics exercises. For most senior citizens, “moderate physical activity” could mean gardening activities like raking or digging, light carpentry work around the yard, or strictly recreational pursuits like jogging and long walks. Resistance training, which for most people translates into weightlifting, is recommended for a minimum of 10 minutes a week.
Other good activities for keeping in shape
Bicycling, playing Badminton, doubles tennis, or Golf are considered some of the more accessible sports for active cancer patients. Bicycling and racket sports offer the benefit of a great vascular workout, while golfing combines walking with resistance training — assuming the golfer himself is the one carrying the clubs around.
To boot, going for a lazy bike ride through the park or a round of golf at the local club can have some health benefits many of us wouldn’t immediately consider, as recent research suggests that being around nature has a unique potential if lifting a cancer sufferer’s mood.
This might be explained by the fact that the rooms inside a hospital look so strikingly different to nature. The drab, sterile confides of a healthcare ward are associated by patients with their disease, while nature’s green, wide open spaces help them put unpleasant thought aside.