The benefits of physical activity

 

Regular, controlled stretching exercises enhance the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion

Undertaking physical activity before, during and after cancer treatment can have many benefits for a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. Let’s unpack some of these.

Remember, if you have had cancer you should check with your doctor or specialist nurse before starting any physical activity.

 

Healthier heart and lungs

Regular cardio (aerobic) exercise – activities that make your heart beat faster and that get you out of breath (such as walking, cycling and housework) – improves the health of your heart and lungs. This in turn increases the amount of oxygen your blood carries to your muscles, which will enable them to work better and for longer.

Circulation improvements

Regular aerobic exercise also improves the structure and function of the blood vessels. For many people this can lead to lower blood pressure readings. It can also make the blood itself healthier; for example, by controlling cholesterol levels and by boosting the number of immune cells that the blood carries.

Stronger muscles

Regular resistance exercise – activities in which you work against a force that ‘resists’ your movement, such as weights or even your own body weight – improves the blood and nerve supply to your muscles. Resistance training can help you increase the amount of muscle you have and make you stronger.

More energy

A healthier heart and lungs, circulation improvements and positive muscle adaptations all add up to less symptoms of fatigue. Many people I’ve worked with say that after exercising regularly for a few weeks they feel less tired generally and are better able to do things that previously defeated them, such as walking up flights of stairs and carrying bags of shopping.

Healthier body weight

Regular exercise, along with changes in your diet, helps you to maintain a healthy body weight by reducing your levels of body fat. Stronger muscles increase your metabolism, which means you’ll burn more calories even when your body is at rest. Maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce the risk of joint and back problems.

Better bone health

Weight-bearing exercise can protect against loss of bone strength (osteoporosis). Although osteoporosis is common in mean and women as they get older, some cancer treatments can also lead to loss of bone density in younger people.

Improved balance

Strengthening the muscles of the back, abdomen and legs improves overall balance. Specific balance exercises also improve your ability to resist external forces that cause falls.

Increased flexibility

Regular, controlled stretching exercises enhance the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion. Stretching is particularly important if you have had surgery that affects the movement of a joint, such as the removal of lymph nodes in the armpit or groin.

Enhanced mood

Regular aerobic exercise reduces stress hormones and promotes the effects of feel-good brain chemicals that lead to feelings of wellbeing and motivation. Exercise is particularly beneficial if you have moderate amounts of anxiety, depression and stress, and can help you cope better with the ups and downs you may experience during cancer treatment. Other psychological benefits of exercise include improved self-esteem, self-confidence, mental alertness and an increased ability to take back control and cope with life’s challenges.