Maintaining good health during cancer treatment

Follow these physical activity recommendations to maintain good health and reduce potential side effects during cancer treatment.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can help you control your weight, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, reduce your risk of some cancers, strengthen your bones and muscles, improve your mental health and mood, improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls and can ultimately increase your chances of living longer.

Many studies have shown that adopting healthy lifestyle habits can help reduce the risk of developing serious illnesses, such as cancer. What exactly does this mean, and what guidelines should a person follow if they have been diagnosed with cancer and need to undergo treatment? 

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there are many studies supporting the value of exercise during cancer treatment. These studies suggest that exercise is safe and feasible during cancer treatment, and that it can improve physical functioning and quality of life during treatment. In general, the USDA recommends that all adults engage in a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, 5 or more days per week.

Patients who were very active before their diagnosis may need to reduce the intensity of their workouts during treatment. However, as long as the activity does not interfere with the treatment plan, the patient should remain as physically active as possible.

For patients who were not physically active prior to treatment, the ACS and CDC both recommend starting slow with low to moderate-intensity aerobic activities, like walking and stretching. From there, you can progress to moderate-intensity physical activities like brisk walking, bicycling, gardening, dancing, golfing, water aerobics, canoeing/kayaking and recreational sports such as doubles tennis or volleyball.

For patients managing an additional chronic health condition such as arthritis, diabetes or heart disease, the CDC recommends consulting with your doctor to develop a physical activity plan that considers the chronic condition in addition to the cancer treatment plan. If a risk factor from the chronic condition stops you from meeting the minimum USDA physical activity guidelines, the important thing is to try to do as much as possible within your doctor’s recommendations.

These simple physical activity tips are meant to provide some generalized health actions steps for patients who are undergoing cancer treatment. You should always check with your health care provider before following any health recommendation. If you would like to learn more about ways to maintain good health during cancer treatment, visit Michigan State University Extension and search for the key words cancer and nutrition. To learn more about healthy lifestyles in general, visit USDA’s My Plate page. MSU Extension offers various educational programs for adults, families, and children that focus on lifestyle changes to promote healthy eating.

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