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The Benefits of Therapeutic Exercise

To contact the Outpatient Cancer Rehabilitation Program at Carolinas Rehabilitation, call 704-355-3558

By Vish Raj, MD, Associate Medical Director, Carolinas Rehabilitation and Director of Cancer Rehabilitation

When individuals suffering from cancer feel tired, practitioners often recommend rest as the primary treatment. However, this may have an unintended effect on wellness. Some individuals become even weaker with rest, leading to further deconditioning and fatigue. One of the best ways to promote wellness is physical activity and exercise.

Studies have shown that therapeutic exercise can improve endurance, strength and energy levels for individuals dealing with oncological diagnoses. In addition, exercise helps reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity and osteoporosis, all of which can be detrimental for survivorship. Positive benefits have been noted in reducing depression and anxiety, as well as other forms of cancer.

Prior to beginning any exercise program, individuals should check with their physician to make sure they are physically safe for activity. For those who can engage in physical activity, emphasis should be placed on cardiovascular and strength training. Aerobic exercise for at least 20 minutes a day has positive benefits on heart health, mood and stamina.

Exercise options include walking, bicycling and swimming. Strength training can aid with a person’s ability to perform daily activities and provide the psychological and physical support to take on daily challenges. Strength can be improved with progressive resistance exercises using free weights, machines or resistance bands. Stretching prior to and after activities may help to promote flexibility while preventing injury. Consultation with a physiatrist, or physical and occupational therapist for exercise prescription may be a good first step in promoting continued wellness for the cancer patient.

Espiritu, N.G. (2009) Therapeutic Exercise in Cancer. In M.D. Stubblefield & M.W. O’Dell (Eds.), Cancer Rehabilitation Principles and Practice (p. 803-812). New York: Demos.

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