Report: Cancer Fatigue can be Resisted with Exercise

Published May 10th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Over the past two decades, there have been numerous studies on cancer patients and exercise. Although there is not yet enough information to create a standard physical conditioning program for people undergoing cancer treatment, there is enough evidence to suggest that exercise during chemotherapy and radiation boosts energy, enhances the ability to function and improves quality of life, including outlook and sense of well-being, according to a report published by 

However, reported that one of the best ways to break the fatigue cycle is to set realistic goals so that patients are not overwhelmed by the idea of exercise. Now a growing number of doctors are encouraging their cancer patients to participate in a course of exercise to help counteract the effects of their treatment. 

"If patients do not participate in some form of exercise, their [ability to function] suffers," said Dr. Peter Boasberg, administrative director of medical oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. "Regular exercise is vital to help maintain functional capacity during chemotherapy or radiation treatment. It's also a critical intervention to help protect against cachexia [muscle wasting and malnutrition]." 



Most of the studies, according to have found that aerobic exercise offers the most benefits.  

"I recommend either walking or biking," says Boasberg. "How long and how much depends on the patient's status. For some patients I might suggest walking 30 minutes several times a day; for others 10 minutes once a day."  

There are two different kinds of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic exercise requires oxygen delivered to the muscles in order to create the energy needed for movement. Any exercise that lasts beyond about two minutes is aerobic. 

The word anaerobic means "without oxygen." Anaerobic exercise uses energy stored in a chemical form in the liver and muscles. It is defined as the "short-term energy system." Anaerobic exercise is anything that can be completed in 60 to 180 seconds. Examples are the 200-meter dash or a 100-meter swim. 

According to The American College of Sports Medicine defines aerobic exercise as the utilization of large muscle groups, such as the quadriceps in the front of the legs and the hamstrings in the back, in a rhythmic activity over a prolonged period of time. Walking, running, jogging and swimming are good examples of aerobic exercise. 

Walking is often recommended for practical reasons:First, walking doesn't require any equipment other than a good pair of walking shoes. It is convenient, you can walk anytime, anywhere and you don't need to belong to a gym or health club. It is also weight-bearing, which means it puts stress on bones and helps strengthen them and requires no special training.  

However, the report published by indicated that it is walking, not just strolling along that gets your endorphins pumping. Endorphins are the body's natural "pleasure hormones." Aerobic exercise releases endorphins into your system, so as you walk you start to feel a sense of well-being, a sort of natural high.  

Some doctors encourage their cancer patients to participate in a program of resistance or weight training. This is anaerobic exercise.  

Although there are not enough studies examining the effect of this type of training in patients with cancer, we can say that it seems to offer important physical benefits. It helps maintain strength, facilitate muscle growth, strengthen joints and tendons, stimulate bone density and remove excess glucose (sugar) from the blood. It also helps improve balance and coordination. Boasberg told, "We want patients undergoing cancer treatment to have protection against muscle wasting. One way to do this is with resistance training." 



Yoga may also help. This 5,000-year-old discipline promotes both physical strength and spiritual awareness. Yoga means "union." Each of the postures, called asanas, is designed to release energy and healing emotions into the body's systems, muscles, organs and tissues. This is done primarily through breathing techniques called "pranayamas." Pranayamas, along with the postures, increase your ability to focus your energy on inward observation and contemplation. A yoga offers emotional balancing as well as physical strengthening indicated the report published by 



One of the major side effects of chemotherapy and radiation is fatigue. Fatigue is a vicious cycle: The more tired you become, the more you don't move. The more you don't move, the more you can't move. The more you can't move, the more tired you become. 

According to Dr. Joyce O'Shaughnessy, a medical oncologist at the University of Texas Medical School in Dallas, tells her patients, "Energy begets energy." She is a vociferous advocate of the benefits of aerobic exercise. "I have found that women who exercise cope better emotionally and feel much better physically during chemotherapy than those who don't."  

One of the best ways to break the fatigue cycle is to set realistic goals so you're not overwhelmed by the idea of exercise. (Sometimes the mere thought of "exercising" sends us into a panic.) Exercise is important, but you should start slowly and feel comfortable with what you are doing. If you have never exercised, a five- to 10-minute walk might feel as if it is all you can do. And it is enough. On the other hand, if you've been a regular exerciser and your energy level during your treatment is not severely compromised, test the waters. But don' t be disappointed if you are unable to perform at your prior levels of intensity or endurance. 

Test how much you can do, and do that much. If you miss a day or several days or a week because of the impact of your treatment, that's OK. Don't give up. As soon as you regain enough strength, start in again, slowly. "Vitality," said F. Scott Fitzgerald to, "shows not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over."  



"In the morning a man walks with his whole body," said Ralph Waldo Emerson to, "in the evening only with his legs." Obviously, Emerson was a morning person. But we all have our own individual inner clocks, our own unique body rhythms. If your energy level is highest in the morning, try to do your exercise then. If your energy quotient escalates as the day goes on, exercise later in the day.  

The time you do it does not matter. That you do it, does. 

Some tips to keep you going: 

Try to do some form of exercise or physical activity every day.  

Choose exercises you enjoy and feel comfortable doing.  

Exercise with a friend or buddy. 

Keep your exercise clothes and shoes in a convenient place so they're easy to get to. If you exercise in the morning, put them out the night before. 

Incorporate your exercise into a daily chore, such as walking to get the mail or taking the dog for a walk. 

Be mentally present in your exercise workout, tap into the sensation of your movements, breathing, increased energy flow.  

Do what you can each day to help build and maintain your strength, improve your quality of life and enhance your well-being. But keep in mind the wise words of the ancient Greek philosophers: "Nothing in excess." And consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program - (Several Sources). 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (

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