By Lana Maciel, MD Anderson Staff Writer
For cancer patients undergoing treatment for their disease, doctors are offering a new kind of prescription -- exercise.
Despite beliefs that patients should rest as much as possible during therapy, a new set of guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) indicates that exercise is actually beneficial for patients and survivors.
The ACSM's message to avoid inactivity stems from a recent review of published studies on the safety and effectiveness of exercise during and after cancer treatment.
Influence on health is beneficial
The new guidelines seem to contradict what many doctors have previously advised. But for the majority of cancer patients, exercise is an important part of the long-term healing process.
"Before, it was generally thought that patients needed to rest because they were sick, and that they shouldn't exert themselves too much," says Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor in MD Anderson's Department of Behavioral Science. "There were always questions like, 'Is it safe?' or 'Is exercising right for me?' But it's important for patients to stay active. It helps improve their general quality of life."
Benefits of exercising while undergoing treatment include less fatigue, increased physical functioning and improved body image. For those who do not exercise during therapy, daily activities such as climbing stairs or walking distances can become difficult, even after the cancer treatment is complete.
Regimens should be tailored
A panel of 13 ACSM members created the guidelines, which recommend that cancer patients do about 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each day, five days a week.
The guidelines generally apply to patients of all cancer types, but the ACSM panel found exercise benefits to be strongest in those with breast, colon, gynecologic, prostate and hematologic (leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma) cancers.
In some cases, however, physical activity can affect safety, and patients should seek professional supervision.
"With some conditions, such as known heart problems or cancer that has metastasized to the bone, patients and survivors should consult with a physician before beginning an exercise," Basen-Engquist says. "Such conditions will often require a modification of the exercise recommendation. But for the majority of cancer survivors, the quick summary of the guidelines is important to remember -- avoid inactivity."
MD Anderson resources:
Department of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson
Cancer Newsline - What Diet and Exercise mean the Cancer Patient (audio)
Physical activity and cancer (National Cancer Institute)
American College of Sports Medicine
American College of Sports Medicine Issues New Guidelines on Exercise
By Lana Maciel, MD Anderson Staff Writer
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