Advances in cancer research have produced greatly improved survival rates thanks to the resulting treatments. Consequently, from 2011 to 2015, the chances of surviving for five years increased to 68 per cent for men and 70 per cent for women.
However, many survivors are left to struggle with the side effects from their successful treatments, which include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Treatments Can Accelerate Muscle Mass Loss
Of particular concern is the accelerated loss of muscle mass accompanied by increased fat mass that can be a byproduct of treatment. These physiological changes can result in decreased physical function, reduced strength and increased incidences weight gain and obesity.
In combination, these side effects can reduce the cancer patient’s quality of life while increasing their risk of developing a disability or a chronic disease.
Why Strength Training?
Both during and after cancer treatments, it is crucial to maintain your muscle strength. Muscles can atrophy due to changes in your activity level and your diet. Certain medication used in some cancer treatments may also contribute to muscle weakness.
Strength training exercises should be scheduled 2 to 5 times each week, typically allowing for a rest day in between sessions. Strength training should not be undertaken if you have a very low platelet count to the risk of bleeding. Similarly, if you feel dizzy you should postpone your strength training and speak with your care team.
What Is Strength Training?
Strength training uses a combination of resistance and weights to increase your muscle strength and endurance.
Weights commonly found in strength-training exercises include:
- Your body during squats, push-ups, pilates and yoga
- Free weights such as barbells and dumbbells and wrist and ankle weights
- TheraBands, elastic resistance bands that provide resistance as they stretch and
- Weight machines based on a combination of hydraulics and weights.
An exercise physiologist or physiotherapist with experience in cancer support can advise on which resistance bands and weights you should be using and the best type of exercises for you. Resistance bands and free weights are available at most sporting goods stores.
If you prefer, you can fashion hand weights from everyday objects, such as plastic bottles filled with sand or water. Always use scales to ensure each weight is of equal heaviness.
For a safe and effective program speak to an Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist
These health professionals are experts in prescribing safe and effective exercises for patients with a history of cancer. They understand your treatment, treatment side effects and the effect that exercise has on your body.
Research studies and practical experience demonstrate the importance for cancer patients to get involved in some form of regular exercise that improves their physical function, muscle strength and mass to ultimately enhance their quality of life.