Recovery Exercise Programs

Dealing with cancer is one of the hardest things my family and I had to endure and according to over 1,600,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2012. I have gained much of the information below from my certification “Breast Cancer Recovery Exercise Program” 2nd edition by Anna Schwartz and Naomi Aaronson, along with other sites, research, my wife’s and my own personal experiences. I hope that you find this information to be useful.

The following are different symptoms that occur during cancer treatment as well as the benefits of keeping active and proper nutrition while going through treatment. I highly recommend every individual to consult with a physician before starting an exercise program while going through treatment. Even if you are an avid exerciser, I suggest you consult with your doctor to understand any limitations you may now have due to treatment(s) and/or surgeries.

  1. Fatigue is very common and can be distressing to an individual. The individual’s treatment, stress, lack of appetite and lack of sleep can all lead to fatigue. Exercise can help combat many of these. Exercise release endorphins (a hormone that makes you “feel” better), can increase appetite (due to caloric expenditure), maintain muscle mass and can help with sleep. Proper nutrition is key as well to assure one recovers efficiently. A balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates and fats is typically what is best.
  2. Increase in Osteoporosis due to certain treatments can cause bones to become brittle and eventually break. Methotrexate, Decadron, Doxorubicin and other chemotherapeutic agents can cause these symptoms. Studies have shown that weight bearing (resistance training) exercises can slow down, reduce and in some cases increase bone density. A diet that has efficient calcium is ideal. Consult with your physician and/or dietician to help determine your recommended amount.
  3. Fluctuations in weight often times occur while going through treatment. Some individuals will gain (which after treatment due to the hormonal imbalances makes it more difficult to get rid of) and some will lose. If one finds they are gaining they may need an exercise program that is more cardiovascular based and decrease overall caloric intake and/or manipulate macronutrients. If one is losing weight, he/she may need to increase calories and reduce cardiovascular activity and increase resistance training. I recommend one track their eating, exercise and how they are feeling. This log will help you understand what works and does not work for your body.
  4. Functional movement often times is decreased during treatment. Many individuals will lose mobility and/or flexibility during treatment. This can be attributed to lack of exercise, decrease in daily activities and/or tightness due to the treatment/surgery. Exercise specific to mobility and flexibility should be a staple of one’s program. Exercises should focus on upper back/shoulders, stretching pectorals , glutes and abs. “Exercise studies have demonstrated that breast cancer survivors who exercise during treatment improve their functional ability by 15% in a nine week period compared with the “usual-care” group who showed fitness declines averaging 23%” Schwartz PhD, Aaronson, MA,OTR/L Breast Cancer Recovery Exercise Program second edition Tuscon, Arizona 2006.
  5. Body image and self-esteem are often affected when one is going through treatment. Individuals may experience hair loss (alopecia), weight gain, weight loss, strength loss, scarring, etc.. Exercising will not only release endorphins, but can help empower a person and help them maintain strength and flexibility (or at least reduce the loss of either). Studies show that regular exercise increase confidence and a positive attitude in all participants.
  6. Lymphedema (swelling in arm on the surgically affected side) and peripheral neuropathy (decrease and/or loss of sensation in feet, toes, fingers and/or hands) are symptoms associated with certain types of treatments and individuals. Weight lifting can help with both due to increase in blood flow and also due to the strength increase in those areas and the surrounding muscles.



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