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Cancer treatment fatigue

How to combat cancer treatment fatigue

Exercise often gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list, but it can be the one thing that helps you get through your day a little easier, especially if you are a cancer patient or survivor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It has so many benefits, like the ability to:

  • Control your weight
  • Reduce your risk of heart disease
  • Reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Improve your mental health and mood
  • Improve your ability to do daily activities
  • Prevent falls, especially if you're an older adult
  • Increase your chances of living longer

These should be reasons enough to make exercise a priority. But the list doesn't stop here. Dennis Buttimer, a facilitator at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, says exercise is especially beneficial to cancer patients and survivors for the following reasons:

  • Improves circulation - A tumor site usually has poor circulation. Exercise helps boost circulation throughout the body, including where the cancer is located.
  • Improves muscular strength - When you exercise, oxygenated blood is able to flow more efficiently to muscles, which allows them to build up strength needed to endure treatment.
  • Lubricates joints - One side effect of cancer treatment is stiff joints. The more you move, the more your body is able to self-lubricate its joints, which makes exercise less painful.
  • Releases endorphins - When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain, essentially serving as a natural pain killer.
  • Strengthens bones - Cancer treatment can also weaken your bones. Weight-bearing exercise in particular can help promote bone density.
  • Combats fatigue - Research has shown that an aerobic exercise program can be prescribed as treatment for cancer-related fatigue.

Don't let fatigue stop you

Fatigue is a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiation. In fact, about 70 percent of patients have fatigue. This type of tiredness does not improve with rest. However, many patients succumb to this fatigue, which then leads to muscle weakness and loss of function.

"You have to put forth energy to create energy," says Buttimer. "At Cancer Wellness, we always incorporate an exercise component in every patient's treatment. Research has proven that exercise is equally as important as nutrition and quality of life support in the overall wellness program."

The American Cancer Society recommends cancer patients and survivors get 150 minutes of aerobic exercise at moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week.

Have an exercise plan

Buttimer strongly encourages all cancer patients to talk to their physicians before starting an exercise program. He says those who already exercise can continue in moderation. But it's important to be aware that your body undergoes changes while going through treatment. Buttimer warns if you push yourself like you normally do, you can easily overdo it and tap into stored energy that you need to endure your treatment. For those who never exercised before, it is important to start slowly with stretches and gentle walks.

"Cancer is a traumatic setback in your life," says Buttimer. "It is important to meet yourself where you are with compassion. Read your body. Do everything in moderation."

For additional support and information, check out Cancer Wellness at Piedmont’s online cancer support classes

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