In Remission From Cancer? Add Exercise

Remission—or the disappearance of all signs and symptoms of cancer—is every cancer patient's ultimate goal. One of the ways you can make the most of being cancer free is by incorporating exercise into your regular lifestyle.

Considerable research has linked exercise to the prevention of many types of cancers. It also helps cancer patients withstand treatment and manage treatment-related side effects. However, The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability says that people recovering from treatment or in remission have the most to gain from rehabilitation and exercise training.

Cancer and cancer treatment can ravage the body. They take a toll on your energy level, cause muscle weakness, and produce declines in functional status and body mass. Cancer can significantly reduce your overall quality of life. Furthermore, rather than helping you recover, rest and decreased activity generally result in further declines in your ability to function, which may even worsen symptoms and lead to chronic disability that continues even in remission.

Exercise can help people in remission recover their physical functioning and return to a healthy, active lifestyle. It also:

  • Improves your immune system and decreases oxidative damage
  • Relieves depression and anxiety
  • Enhances psychological well being
  • Improves your flexibility, body composition, and muscle endurance
  • Increases your sense of control and self-esteem
  • Alleviates fatigue (the most common complaint of cancer survivors a year after treatment)
  • Prevents unwanted weight gain (being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for cancer, and chemotherapy causes loss muscle mass, which is not the type of weight loss you want)
  • Reduces your risk of recurrence

Breast cancer patients who have had lymph nodes removed benefit from exercise; it prevents the buildup of fluids (lymphedema) and helps drain lymph fluid.

If you didn't exercise before your cancer diagnosis, check with your physician before beginning an exercise regime. The best exercise program includes aerobic activity and strength training. Walk or ride a bike, for example, at 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for 30 to 60 minutes most days.

Even patients who are bedridden, who have limited mobility, or who quickly fatigue during exercise can benefit from low levels of activity and gradually build up tolerance for more intense activity.

Everyone should make exercise a part of a healthy lifestyle and to reduce his or her risk of developing cancer. If you're a cancer survivor in remission, it's just what the doctor ordered.

The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability. "Disability/Condition: Cancer and Exercise." Web. 5 March 2009.

Visovsky, Constance PhD, RN, ACNP, and Dvorak, Colleen BSN, RN, OCN. "Exercise and Cancer Recovery." Journal Issues Nursing 10(2) (2005): online. Medscape Medical News. Web. 30 August 2005.

Harrison, Pam. "Fitness Program Benefits Mind and Body in Cancer Survivors." Medscape Medical News. Web. 29 April 2011.

National Cancer Institute. "Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment." Web. 30 July 2010.