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To Best Fight Cancer, New Guidelines Urge Exercise
Date:11/6/2010

guidelines up to this point have been, 'Take it easy, don't push yourself.'"

But that's changed, she explained. "Not only is exercise safe, but it has a number of benefits for cancer patients during treatment," she said.

The top benefit is a better chance of survival. Exercise seems to make the body better able to withstand the withering effects of such cancer treatments as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

"Evidence is promising that exercise may make cancer treatment more effective," Schmitz added. For example, breast cancer patients doing resistance training were better able to take a full dose of chemotherapy, rather than having to cut the treatment short due to the detrimental effects of chemo on the body, she said.

Other exercise benefits for cancer patients and survivors include:

  • Reduced fatigue. Aerobic activity has been found to lessen the need for drugs to increase production of red blood cells because of chemo damage. The loss of red blood cells is responsible for much of the crippling fatigue that people often feel while undergoing cancer treatment. "You do need less medical attention for your fatigue during chemotherapy if you are physically active," Schmitz said.
  • Reduced loss of muscle and bone mass. "A lot of patients lose muscle mass and bone density during chemotherapy or hormone therapy," said Dr. Eleanor M. Walker, division director of breast services in the radiation oncology department at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and lead author of an ongoing study on exercise for cancer patients. Evidence has found that regular workouts can attenuate the wasting away that comes both from the cancer itself and cancer treatments.
  • Improved quality of life. People with cancer feel better overall when they exercise. Fatigue is less, but there also are emotional benefits to be had. "There's such a sense of fear, such a sense of loss of control, a lot of stress -- and we know that exercis
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