After being surgically treated for cancer, patients commonly feel fatigue -- a kind so severe that it interferes with daily life, and can even go on to spur anxiety and depression. But a new study suggests that taking regular walks could help to decrease this exhaustion.
As many as 96 percent of cancer patients experience fatigue from their treatments. "This is not the normal 'I-stayed-up-too-late' fatigue," study researcher Dr. Theresa Yeo, of the Thomas Jefferson University School of Nursing and Jefferson Pancreas Tumor Registry, said in a statement. "It's really being exhausted, and it doesn't go away with sleep. It hits patients in their daily activities -- simple things like doing your personal hygiene in the morning, getting up and getting dressed, going from the bedroom to wherever you eat breakfast."
But the new research shows that an activity as simple as walking could help to lessen this fatigue. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons included 102 people who had just had surgery done for their pancreatic or periampullary cancers. Eighty-five percent of them reported having fatigue at a moderate to severe level.
Upon discharge from the hospital, half of the study participants were not instructed to do any sort of exercise upon going home. The other half of the study participants were told to do 20-minute walking exercises for their first month after discharge, leaving a five-minute warm-up and cool-down period. Throughout the three-month study, the study participants in the walking group were instructed to try to walk 90 to 150 extra minutes per week.
At the end of the three-month study, the people in the walking group showed a decrease in fatigue levels of 27 percent, as well as a decrease in pain. Meanwhile, the people in the other group had improvements of 19 percent.
"The message in pancreatic cancer care has typically been that these patients are just too sick to do this, but that's not true anymore," Dr. Yeo said in the statement. "With increased surgical expertise and the use of postoperative critical care pathways [care maps], more patients are feeling better sooner and going home earlier after their operations. There is no reason that patients can't become active, even if they did not exercise before."
Walking can still be a fatigue-buster for people who haven't undergone a cancer treatment procedure. A 2008 University of Georgia study showed that for people with fatigue and who lead sedentary lifestyles, doing a low-intensity exercise regularly can result in a 20 percent boost in energy, as well as a 65 percent decrease in fatigue.