Numerous studies have proven what we all know by now: exercise is important for your health. But new research done by the University of Pennsylvania suggests that being active can be very beneficial for patients undergoing chemotherapy.
The study, done on a mouse model of melanoma, found that combining exercise with chemotherapy can shrunk tumours more than only undergoing chemotherapy alone. Although previous studies have shown that exercising prior to receiving chemotherapy could help to protect the heart from the negative effects of the drug doxorubicin, only a few studies were done in the past to confirm whether exercising during chemotherapy could be beneficial.
The Link Between Exercise and Treating Cancer
Traditionally, people who receive chemotherapy or radiation are told to rest in order to have enough strength to fight the cancer, but lately, physicians are advising patients to exercise while receiving treatment. The reason? It might be due to the increased circulation of the drugs used to treat cancer cells. When you exercise your blood flow increases, which will in turn increase the circulation of the drug and therefore reaching cancer cells faster. If the cancer cells are reached faster, the drug is able to work faster, thus reducing the size of the tumours. Subsequently, less medication can be given in a lower dosage, resulting in the body experiencing less of the negative effects, like vomiting.
“If exercise helps in this way, you could potentially use a smaller dose of the drug and get fewer side effects,” said Joseph Libonati, director of the Laboratory of Innovative and Translational Nursing Research and associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania. This study was also recently published by the American Journal of Physiology.
It was also found that during chemotherapy treatments, patients lose bone and muscle mass; but when they are active, the reduction of bone and muscle mass is significantly reduced. This lessens the “wasting away” appearance of a cancer patient because patients do in fact look and feel healthier.
Another benefit of gaining a clearer understanding of the ways that an exercise regime can affect various systems in the body is that it could also pave the way for the development of future drugs that mimic the effects of exercise.
Cancer Patients Should Be More Active
It is true that a patient who does receives treatment while exercising will still experience the side effects of the treatment drug. It will be experience in a lesser degree as to patients who are sedentary. Therefore, doctors do advise patients to be active as much as they can. Not all patients will be able to keep up the level of physical activity as before treatment started but by being active in your own capacity is much better than avoiding it.
Do not exclude all the other benefits of exercising and living an active lifestyle. If you exercise, there is a reduction in fatigue, resulting in higher energy levels. Because of a lower drug dosage that can be used, there will also be less chemo damage done to the body. The result is an increased production of red blood cells, the cells that carries oxygen to the body.
Another benefit of cancer patients being active is a visible increase in the quality of life. Overall well-being is enhanced, fatigue is reduced, and this also means being less emotional due to lack of sleep. When we exercise, endorphins – our feel good hormones – are released. This enables patients to handle stress more effectively, and face their fears with a calmer, open mind.
Cancer patients should always look at their workout plan and make adjustments accordingly. The type of cancer therapy they receive will also determine what level of exercise or activities they will be able to do. Some cancer therapies make bones brittle and some patients might even be more vulnerable to infections and need to exercise on their own, avoiding other people. Nevertheless, patients should do what has to be done in order to make their treatment more effective.
More studies are being conducted in order to help cancer patients beat this illness. Modern science allows us the opportunity to find cures and help save lives, and each day sees a new opportunity to learn something extraordinary.
- University of Pennsylvania, Exercise Boosts Tumour-Fighting Ability of Chemotherapy, Team Finds.
- American Physiological Society, Concomitant Low-Dose Doxorubicin Treatment and Exercise.
About the Author: Josh Douglas-Walton is a writer for HFE, a leading provider of personal trainer courses and fitness qualifications.