Once they have the official green light to begin exercising, cancer patients often focus on regaining their endurance. It’s especially common for patients to focus exclusively on cardio, thanks to the gratifying nature of endurance-based training plans.
While cardiovascular condition and stamina are essential focuses, they shouldn’t be the only focus. For cancer patients, strength training is just as important as other workout elements in helping to improve a cancer prognosis.
Weight training can prevent cancer-related muscle loss. Some patients experience cachexia during cancer treatment. With this condition, they unintentionally lose weight and muscle mass. However, strength training can help them slow – or stop – the muscle loss that often results in exhaustion and metabolic complications.
Weight training can release anxiety about health, treatment and other cancer-related concerns. Many studies have tracked the mental benefits of cardiovascular exercise – but strength training can provide similar emotional benefits. An American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine study found that moderate-intensity resistance training was able to diffuse anxiety, as well as physical complications of stress. Interestingly, the benefits were less pronounced in the high-intensity strength training group, proving that you don’t have to overwork your muscles to achieve the benefits.
Weight training can offset quality of life problems that occur during hormone therapy. Hormone therapy – a common treatment for prostate cancer – can cause major fatigue, loss of strength and loss of lean body tissue. According to a Journal of Clinical Oncology study, resistance training can help reduce or reverse these side effects. Prostate cancer patients who completed a 12-week weight training program felt less fatigued than patients who did not complete the exercise plan. They also reported a better quality of life and had more upper body strength than non-participants.
Weight training can help improve survivors’ body image. A recent breast cancer study found that female patients who lifted weights during recovery had a better body image and less body fat than the patients who didn’t strength train. Other benefits of weight training for cancer survivors include:
* Better sleep
* More consistent appetite
* Higher bone density
* Enhanced flexibility To achieve these benefits, the American Cancer Society recommends that patients participate in some form of weight training at least twice a week. Body weight exercises, free weight regimens and yoga are all excellent options. However, patients should always check with their doctor before beginning (or changing) their exercise plan – and they should always work with a trainer who has experience in designing plans for cancer survivors.
Faith Franz writes for The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com. She encourages patients to consider the benefits of alternative medicine.