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The Power of Cardiovascular Exercise After Cancer Treatment

Once cancer treatment has finished, you may start to consider ways to get back in control of your body, to rebuild strength and enhancing overall well-being. But what can you do to support your heart and lung health after cancer? As exercise was such a huge part of my own cancer recovery, I thought I'd share a few pointers here.


Physical activity, especially cardiovascular exercise (aerobic exercise that raises the heart rate), plays a pivotal role in supporting your recovery and regaining vitality. In this blog, we will explore the benefits of cardiovascular exercise after cancer treatment and provide practical tips to help you embark on your fitness journey.


  1. Boosting Physical Fitness: Engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise helps to improve your cardiovascular endurance, strengthen your heart and lungs, and enhance overall physical fitness. Start with low-intensity activities such as walking, swimming, or cycling, gradually increasing the duration and intensity as your fitness level improves.

  2. Promoting Mental Well-being: Exercise has been scientifically proven to enhance mental health by boosting mood, reducing anxiety and depression, and improving overall quality of life. After facing a life-altering event like cancer, incorporating cardiovascular exercise into your routine can help alleviate stress, increase energy levels, and promote a positive mindset.(1)

  3. Reducing Fatigue: One of the most common side effects of cancer treatment is fatigue, which can persist even after treatment ends. Engaging in regular aerobic exercise can help combat fatigue by improving cardiovascular function, increasing oxygen supply to your muscles, and reducing inflammation. However, it's important to listen to your body and adjust intensity accordingly to avoid overexertion.(1)

  4. Managing Weight: Weight gain or loss often occurs during cancer treatment, and maintaining a healthy body weight is crucial for long-term health. Cardiovascular exercise, combined with a balanced diet, can aid in weight management by burning calories, boosting metabolism, and improving body composition. Consult with your oncology team or a registered dietitian to create a personalised plan that suits your specific needs.

  5. Reducing the Risk of Recurrence: Studies have suggested that regular physical activity, including cardiovascular exercise, may reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and improve overall survival rates. While more research is needed, engaging in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 150 minutes per week has shown promising results in reducing recurrence rates, particularly for breast and colorectal cancer survivors.(2)

Tips for Getting Started:

  1. Consult with Your Oncology Team: Before starting any exercise programme, it's important to consult with your oncology team to assess your individual needs and discuss any precautions or modifications necessary based on your treatment history.

  2. Start Slowly: Begin with low-impact activities and gradually increase your duration and intensity over time. This allows your body to adapt gradually and reduces the risk of injury or overexertion.

  3. Set Realistic Goals: Having realistic goals will help you stay motivated and track your progress. Start with small milestones and celebrate each achievement as you regain your strength and stamina. Here's some more advice from our physio Hannah on goal setting after cancer.

  4. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how your body feels during and after exercise. If you experience pain, dizziness, or extreme fatigue, it may be a sign to lower the intensity or consult with a healthcare professional.

  5. Get Outside: Exercising in the great outdoors, rain or shine can do wonders for both your physical and mental heath.(3)

  6. Incorporate Variety: To keep your workouts interesting and prevent boredom, mix different cardiovascular exercises such as walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, or group classes, like our Low-impact HIIT. This variety also helps engage different muscle groups and prevents overuse injuries.

  7. Use A Programme: Consider using a progressive programme like Couch to 5k, even if it's just to increase your walking endurance. Increase your walking pace during the suggested running intervals if you prefer, and repeat weeks if you're not ready to move up.

  8. Make It Fun!: Take a friend or family member with you for a catch up, stop for a cuppa after.

Cardiovascular exercise after cancer treatment is not only safe but highly beneficial for your physical and mental well-being. It can aid in regaining strength, reducing fatigue, managing weight, and potentially lowering the risk of recurrence. Remember, every step forward is a win, and with patience, perseverance, and proper guidance, you can reclaim your strength and fitness, and embrace a new chapter of living well after cancer.


References

  1. Wolin KY, Schwartz AL, Matthews CE, Courneya KS, Schmitz KH. Implementing the exercise guidelines for cancer survivors. J Support Oncol. 2012 Sep-Oct;10(5):171-7. doi: 10.1016/j.suponc.2012.02.001. Epub 2012 May 10. PMID: 22579268; PMCID: PMC3543866.

  2. Friedenreich CM, Neilson HK, Farris MS, Courneya KS. Physical Activity and Cancer Outcomes: A Precision Medicine Approach. Clin Cancer Res. 2016;22(19):4766–75. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

  3. Gladwell, V.F., Brown, D.K., Wood, C. et al. The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all. Extrem Physiol Med2, 3 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/2046-7648-2-3

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