08/20/2012 10:37 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2012

Benefits of Exercise During and After Cancer Treatment

Oncologists often recommend that their patients undergoing cancer treatment take it easy, but today that advice has significantly changed. According to Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, cancer patients would benefit greatly from some level of physical activity in regard to their recovery and long-term health. Macmillan Cancer Support is a UK-based organization that offers medical and financial support for cancer patients, and pushes for better cancer care. Macmillan's "Move More" report surveyed 60 studies and over 400 health professionals to show how important exercise is to cancer treatment -- and for reducing the risk of some cancers progressing or coming back. The results of these studies are astounding -- but even more astounding, the report showed that over half of general practitioners, oncologists, and nurses don't inform their patients of the benefits of exercise.

Macmillan goes so far as to refer to exercise as the latest "wonder drug" for cancer.

My own experience as a trainer of 25 years has proven this to be true. I have worked with a handful of clients who have undergone cancer treatment, and even just a little exercise during treatment made a significant difference. The lack of exercise only exacerbates the fatigue and low energy levels. I have seen this firsthand in my personal experience with a family member who underwent cancer treatment in recent times and did not ever engage in any form of exercise at any time during his treatment. Not surprisingly, he had the toughest time getting through treatment compared to my clients that did exercise, and he continues to suffer the aftermath of cancer treatment today -- three years later. Sadly, none of his doctors ever suggested that he attempt to exercise even a little.

In addition, exercise can reduce stress and anxiety, improves bone and heart health, and can help reduce the risk of blood clots -- all of which are possible side effects of cancer treatment.

The extent to which one is able to exercise varies from patient to patient, but any amount of physical activity is better than none at all. There are many different ways to be active -- from gardening to walking to more structured exercise programs. The patient and his/her doctor will be the best judge of how much and what type of activity will be beneficial. I would advise consulting with your doctor and then beginning slowly with small amounts of exercise, seeking help from a fitness professional if needed. You'll quickly figure out what your limits are.

For more information on how exercise can help fight cancer, visit the American Cancer Society website or Macmillan's website.

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