When it comes to the science of fighting fatigue, exercise is king. There is excellent data proving that people with cancer related fatigue who exercise have more energy. Studies have explored different ways to exercise, the effect of exercise on many types of cancer diagnoses, and different exercise program lengths and intensities. Across the board, the results are the same - exercise decreases fatigue. People with cancer related fatigue not only have improved energy, they have less emotional distress, better sleep, improved functional capacity and better quality of life.
Let me mention one more important piece of data:
There is a link between exercise and cancer survival.
Said differently: You are less likely to die of cancer if you exercise.
There is also growing evidence that a sedentary lifestyle is an independent risk factor for cancer. A sedentary lifestyle is also a risk factor for having a poorer prognosis as a cancer survivor.
Said differently: You are more likely to get cancer if you don't exercise, and as a cancer survivor, you are more likely to die of ANY CAUSE if you sit around a lot.
So let's see. If you are a cancer survivor, you'll have less fatigue if you exercise, a higher quality of life, and you will improve your prognosis as a cancer survivor.
The evidence for engaging in exercise is overwhelming.
But for some, the argument that exercising helps fatigue is counter intuitive. How could doing exhausting exercise make you LESS tired?
Exercise increases your functional capacity, which is your ability to do everyday activities. When you don't use your body, it weakens very quickly. If you work on maintaining your strength, you also maintain your ability to function and it takes less perceived energy to do tasks.
Unfortunately, so many cancer survivors have a serious uphill climb when it comes to starting an exercise program. They may start out very deconditioned from the cancer itself or cancer treatment's effects. Additionally, cancer survivors may not have much experience exercising in general and simply don't know where to start.
This is my suggestion - just walk. It's that simple.
The formal recommendation is to walk 30 minutes five times per week, but this is something you can work up to. If you can only make it to the end of the driveway on your first day, that's fine! It's a great start. Tomorrow you can do that twice, and when you're ready, you can go twice as far again. The fact is, you have to start somewhere, and anything you do to increase your physical activity is an absolute victory.
Most cancer survivors can engage in a walking exercise program safely. The exception may be people with safety concerns like those with a penchant for falling due to frailty or severe peripheral neuropathy (numbness or pain, particularly in the feet, that may cause balance problems). People with higher risk issues should undergo a program of physical therapy before receiving clearance to begin an exercise program at home.
The benefits of walking are many fold. Our bodies evolved to walk long distances every day and so it's happy when you do just that. Walking is the best aerobic exercise you can do for your heart. Walking also tells your metabolism to become more efficient and is the most direct route to weight loss. Walking improves sleep quality, increases insulin sensitivity, decreases depression, increases creativity, increases bone mass - absolutely beneficial in every way. And it costs nothing.
In addition to walking, a strength training activity 2-3 times per week is also beneficial. Read the post about strength training here.
There are so many ways to start moving. To help you get started, I’m making the Brio Survivor Fatigue Solution Exercise Plan available to you, for FREE! Make sure you get clearance from your doctor and start moving today!
Take care, Survivor.