Dec 21, 2015

Unlocking the ‘anti-cancer’ benefits of exercise

At this year’s National Cancer Research Institute conference in Liverpool, Professor Robert Thomas joined a panel of expert colleagues to deliver a session highlighting the importance of lifestyle choices for cancer patients and survivors. Here we discuss how patients can take control of their own health through an active lifestyle and exercise to reduce treatment side effects and improve their outcomes.

Scientists emphasise the importance of exercise in cancer survival at this year’s National Cancer Research Institute conference

exerciseIn recent years, we’ve seen fantastic advances in the way cancer can be treated, with the number of options for treatment increasing all the time. As a result, survival rates are on the up, and patients with cancer are able to live longer than ever before. So, what about quality of life for patients? How can they live well through treatment and beyond? And how do their lifestyle choices affect recovery and survivorship? These issues were featured at this year’s NCRI conference where Professor Robert Thomas, along with a panel of leading experts, took part in a special session focussed on the impact of lifestyle choices on treatment outcomes and quality of life for cancer patients and survivors.

Scientists have researched the importance of lifestyle and exercise for patients with cancer. ‘There are a lot of data out there and if you’re in the field and follow the research, you’re convinced of the benefits of lifestyle and exercise.’ says Professor Thomas.

Exercise can play a huge role in the lives of patients undergoing cancer treatment. It can help to reduce tiredness and some treatment side effects, such as hot flushes. It can reduce anxiety and depression. It can have a positive impact on mood and quality of life. And most importantly, it can improve outcomes. It can even reduce the risk of cancer coming back.

With a recent survey conducted by Macmillan revealing that less than 40% of health professionals feel it’s their role to talk to patients about lifestyle strategies and exercise during cancer treatment, Professor Thomas emphasised the importance of changing the attitudes of oncologists, making them more aware of the importance of lifestyle choices. The NCRI session also revealed how only around 10% of patients in a typical community hospital setting are physically active. And we need to improve these figures.

So whether undergoing or recovering from treatment, or living with advanced cancer, what can patients do to improve their level of physical activity and take control of their own health? Firstly, consult your doctor. They can give you advice on appropriate levels of activity for you. Ideally, adults should be physically active for at least 2.5 hours each week. You can gradually build up to this level as you feel able. Try and fit physical activity into your weekly routine. Start with simple things – use the stairs rather than taking the lift; walk or cycle instead of driving; involve your family and friends – make exercise enjoyable. The more active you become, the more inclined to exercise you’ll feel. Try and include a range of activities in your programme. Improve your heart health with aerobic exercises like walking, cycling or dancing. Strengthen your muscles with resistance exercises. Improve your suppleness, balance and strength with flexibility and balance exercises such as stretches, yoga or pilates. All of these things are a positive step forward.

Scientific evidence shows that exercise can boost your quality of life and improve your outcomes. So go on. Start today.


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