Around the world, cancer protocols are changing in response to a growing awareness that exercise is a powerful, complimentary treatment appropriate for every type and stage of cancer and treatment. Many clinics may still not offer the direct aid of a physical therapist, and doctors may not bring up exercise when discussing treatment options, but this is simply a reflection of how slow news travels even in the digital age. All major cancer organizations are in agreement that patients need exercise.

The most common questions fro patients just hearing this news tend to focus on the exercise itself. How much time is needed to gain benefits, and what type of exercise is best? The answers to these questions are partial ones, because every case is different. A person diagnosed with early-stage mesothelioma, but otherwise in excellent shape, generally has the understanding of exercise and physical fitness level to engage in more vigorous forms than someone with little experience and facing a late-stage colorectal cancer. Both will gain benefits, though their starting points will be wildly dissimilar.

Too Tired for Exercise?

Studies show that physical activity drops off during treatment and often remains at very low levels even years after success. The problem is one of fatigue, which can result from cancer or the treatment, as well as associated emotional stress. Fatigue has been a focal point of research, and numerous studies show that exercise can alleviate fatigue, even for those in palliative care. Though it is important to avoid over-exertion, it is equally important to avoid physical inactivity. Cancer fatigue can last for up to five years after treatment, and exercise is one avenue to help overcome it.

What About Hospital Stays?

Cancer patients are sometimes subject to short or extended hospital stays during treatment or for observation after experiencing certain symptoms. Whether bedridden or not, there are several exercises that can maintain the individual’s fitness momentum and provide benefits. It is always helpful to bring up the desire for exercise, and any planned workout program, with the doctor, but a hospital stay will give access to other sources of help as well.

The physical therapist and/or occupational therapist on staff can provide a list of exercises for any condition and help to ensure they are being performed properly. They may also know of hospital or community resources that can make exercise more enjoyable. Classes, such as for yoga, water aerobics or dance, combine fitness with a chance to socialize, which is an important part of maintaining a regular routine.

It is easy to lose motivation when making these efforts alone. Including others in a type of exercise that is enjoyable can help by increasing motivation.