Why physical activity and proper diet is important for cancer patients

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CancerRepresentational picture

Cancer is a group of disorders that grows rapidly and can also spread to the other parts of the body. In the world billions and billions of dollars are spent for research on cancers. According to burden of disease 90.5 million were affected with cancer, and 8.8 million deaths were reported from 1990 till 2015 as per study published in LANCET journal in 2016, and this is increasing. And this is irrespective of age groups.

Cancer-related deaths, are reported almost 25–30% are due to tobacco, as many as 30–35% are linked to diet, about 15–20% are due to infections, and the remaining percentage are due to other factors like radiation, stress, physical activity, environmental pollutants etc.

Regulating BMI helps in prevention of many cancers. In USA, excess body weight is associated with many cancers and causes 14-20% of cancer deaths according to American Cancer Society guidelines published in 2006. In UK as well, almost 5 million people had higher BMI which caused almost 10 types of different cancers and responsible for almost 12000 cases each year as per research published in Lancet 2014. Physical Inactivity may contribute to cancer, not only through higher BMI, but also due to negative effects on Immune system and endocrine system.

Nilesh Makwana, Director and consulting physiotherapist, Muscle N Mind Physiotherapy Centre says physical activity and proper diet helps in cancer treatment which can reduce the detrimental effects of Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy. Number of studies has looked at the effects of physical activity on cancer recurrence and long-term survival. (Cancer recurrence is cancer that comes back after treatment.) Exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, body composition, fatigue, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, happiness, and several quality of life factors in cancer survivors. At least 20 studies of people with breast, colorectal, prostate, and ovarian cancer have suggested that physically active cancer survivors have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival compared with those who are inactive, as per report published by American Cancer Society.

After the treatment either by Chemotherapy or Radiotherapy, there is significant decrease in muscle mass and reduced endurance. Cancer survivor does believe that because they are not able to do any activity they should be resting and follow the routine. However, physical activity helps in faster recovery post chemo and radio therapy. Physical activity helps regulating many hormones which helps in increasing muscle strength and muscle mass, it also helps releasing Natural Killer (NK). However, those who treated for Lung and Digestive cancer will have lower BMI, and for them maintaining healthy body weight using proper nutrition guidelines and exercises are important.

Guidelines to follow; (As per American Cancer Society)

  • Talk to your doctor/ physiotherapist before you start any type of exercise.
  • Start slowly and for few minutes initially.
  • Try short periods of exercise with frequent breaks.
  • Include physical activity that uses large muscle groups such as your thighs, abdomen (belly), chest, and back. Strength, flexibility, and aerobic fitness are all important parts of a good exercise program.
  • Don't try to pull heavy weights, keep is light. Do it either with Resistance bands or light weights.
  • Use stretching, and some flexibility exercises in your program
  • Use proper warm up and cool down programs, use breathing exercises as well during the exercises for proper oxygenation.
  • Exercise as you are able. Don’t push yourself; take rest if your body needs it. Listen to your body.
  • If fatigue sets in;- do relaxation techniques, breathing exercises and if you like to read books or listen to music that helps in reducing fatigue.
  • There are many do’s and don’t that need to be followed by cancer survivor, and therefore, exercises done under supervision is very essential. Checking various parameters like heart rate, Saturation of Oxygen and Blood pressure is essential during the exercises

Inputs from Dr Nilesh Makwana, Director and consulting physiotherapist, Muscle N Mind Physiotherapy Centre