As lockdown continues, and we face another few months of life without access to our traditional gym settings, I have been inundated with questions regarding training strategies that can be implemented at home.
For those of you who don’t know, cancer rehab is fairly new to the UK. Many other countries are way ahead in the delivery of this vital service. Some European countries have been providing rehab for cancer patients since the 1800’s. It is now a staple and vital part of the cancer treatment and recovery pathway.
The main problem is that people with a cancer diagnosis, their families, their friends AND their health professionals simply do not know what benefits there are to cancer rehab. Cancer and cancer treatment brings a host of negative side effects. Different types of exercise bring about specific physiological responses. Selecting the right exercise stimulus to combat a specific side effect is what makes rehab so effective in oncology.
Here are a few top line benefits of exercise medicine interventions for some of the main issue’s cancer patients face:
Fatigue is a huge issue for cancer patients that can set in to varying degrees and at varying points during treatment and remission. There is an inverse relationship with activity and fatigue. The way to manage this is a steady, phased, progressive load. This will vary at different points of cancer treatment for example, early on during treatment, the load needs to be managed very carefully and adapted to how the individual is feeling. Further down the line, you can start to push harder and take bigger steps in rebuilding your physical capacity.
Anxiety and depression are common issues and can occur in us all for many reasons. The burden of cancer and cancer treatment often has a significant psychological impact. Exercise has profound effects on our wellbeing, this is no different for cancer patients. Exercise helps regain independence, promote positive self-image and helps physical and mental strength to name a few. Exercise has been shown to be more effective in fighting the psychological disorders in cancer patients than pharmaceutical interventions.
Toxicity is a huge issue with cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and other pharmaceutical interventions cause toxicity. The body has to metabolise the drug. Muscle mass is imperative in this process. Mostly for chemotherapy, it is administered on body weight, however, one person’s body composition at 80kg for example is very different to another individual at 80kg.
Chemotherapy is also highly catabolic meaning you lose a great deal of weight. A large portion of this weight loss is muscle. As treatment progresses, muscle mass reduces, toxicity rises. This can mean patients suffer more from treatment or, have to have breaks in treatment or don’t complete treatment plans. Strength training helps to increase muscle mass pre and post treatment and helps maintain as much as possible during. This helps reduce the negative impact of treatment, improves physical function and quality of life and helps completion of treatment.
Many drugs and treatments to help fight cancer, particularly long-term pharmaceutical and hormone therapy have a detrimental effect on bone density. Bone density is important to prevent fractures and fragility. Once lost, rebuilding bone density can be a slow process, but it is crucial. Exercise selection tends to be heavy resistance and impact/plyometric based and follows a strict time frame for recovery between stimulus.
Tissue quality is affected by many types of treatment, most commonly surgery and radiotherapy. Surgical procedures and their impact can really vary, as can the patients healing process. Creating the ideal environment for healing is vital. Exercises targeting the specific impairment stimulate production of better-quality tissue and optimise recovery.
For patients undergoing radiotherapy, the tissue around the tumour site can become extremely tight and restricted. This causes impaired physical function. Maintaining tissue quality with mobility and strength work is integral to preventing deteriorating in function. Also, there are promising studies into the specific affects exercise has on the cancer itself during treatment. Those exercising during radiotherapy can have improved response to treatment due to the potential for exercise to alter tumour perfusion and affect its microbiology.
General and more long-term benefits are also hugely important. Cancer patients tend to develop more secondary health problems such as cardiac and psychological disorders. Showing cancer patients that exercise is safe and extremely helpful to their treatment and recovery is hugely important to rebuilding the mind and body.
Survivorship is a way of life. It can be shaped in a positive direction and negative direction. Exercise is a crucial way of getting the body and mind back. Rebuilding the new normal as a cancer survivor and surviving well as documented by two clients in the video below.
The benefits to cancer rehab are huge and widespread. What is more, they are cheap, accessible and actually make you feel better! The aim of this article is to raise awareness of this type of therapy so that it reaches those who need it. Please share this message with your social network, family, friends, colleagues and people you think it can help. Let’s make the UK the leader in cancer rehab and give cancer survivors the best possible tools to rebuild themselves and their lives.
To help cancer patients access rehab services please donate via the Pinc & Steel Cancer Rehabilitation Foundation Just Giving page or via the Stronglines Cancer Rehab Awareness Week Just Giving Page.
Don’t forget to promote Cancer Rehab Awareness Week as far and wide as you can!
Imagine playing a complex board game where everyone is playing by their own rules, except you don’t know what the rules are or how to invent your own. That’s what life can feel like when we haven’t learnt the skill of healthy personal boundaries.
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