How to Improve your Physical Health

As a result of cancer treatment, many people experience physical and mental exhaustion. Sitting for too long can result in loss of body function, muscle weakness, and reduced range of motion, making it difficult to recover strength. You can improve your health and recovery time by practicing physical activity daily. Strength and muscle mass play an important role in your balance and posture.

Health benefits of improving your physical fitness

  • Help your body and brain work better
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Help lessen depression and anxiety
  • Might help you sleep better
  • Improve your physical ability to get things done
  • Improve your muscle strength, bone health and range of motion
  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Increase your appetite
  • Help you get to and maintain a healthy weight
  • May help with lymphoedema 
  • Improve your quality of life
  • Reduce treatment side effects

Exercising After a Break: How to Get Started

Getting back into exercise might seem challenging, due to fatigue and a lack of motivation. However, starting a workout feeling tired can actually boost your energy and motivate you. It's wise to start slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts. Over time, you will likely overcome a lot of your resistance, helping you to build a habit of exercising. Take your time and be patient with yourself!

Remember to start slowly:

Even if you can only be active for a few minutes a day it will help you. Increase slowly how often and how long you exercise. 
Don’t push yourself. Listen to your body and rest when you need to. If you feel tired, you can try doing 10 minutes of light exercises each day and build up.
Do not exercise if you feel dizzy or are unsteady on your feet.
Do not exercise above a moderate level of exertion without talking with your doctor.
Try short periods of exercise with frequent rest breaks. For example, walk briskly for a few minutes, slow down, and walk briskly again, until you have done 30 minutes of brisk activity. You can also divide your activity into three 10-minute sessions. You’ll still get the benefit of the exercise.
Starting an exercise program can be a big task, even for a healthy person. It may be even harder if you have a chronic illness, especially if you weren’t used to exercising before diagnosis.

    To make it feel less overwhelming, try these simple exercises:  

     Flexibility Exercises 

    Warm up before doing any of these stretches. Good examples of warm up activities are slowly running in place or walking briskly for a few minutes.

    • Yoga
    • Forward Lunges
    • Seat Straddle Lotus
    • Side Lunges ect.

    Aerobic Exercises

    Helps reduce chronic pain and improves the immune system and brain power. 
    • Swimming
    • Cycling

    Resistance training (Lifting weights or isometric exercise)

    This type of exercise helps rebuild your muscles and improve bone strength.

    Many people lose muscle, but gain fat, through cancer treatment. For those with a high fat-to-lean mass ratio, resistance training can be especially helpful.

    Stretch after each workout 

    In order to reduce the risk of injury, stretching involves relaxing all muscles. It is possible to stretch by reaching overhead, deep breathing and touching your toes. You should hold your stretches for up to 30 seconds and relax afterwards. Additional benefits include:

    Return your heart rate to a normal level
    Getting your blood flowing through exercise improves your heart function, which provides several positive health benefits. After you complete a workout, it's just as important to return your heart rate to a normal level. 
     Lactic Acid
    When you exercise, the body produces lactic acid, which leads to sore, achy muscles. Stretching can reduce the accumulation of lactic acid throughout the body, as well as relax tense muscles.
    Muscle and Joint Strain
    By stretching properly, you can minimise the strain on your muscles and joints. Your muscles will remain flexible and toned, thereby reducing the chance of injury.

    When to avoid certain types of exercise

    You should always consult your doctor if you do not know what exercises you should do when you are suffering from cancer or undergoing particular treatments. Below are other factors that you might want to be aware of.

    Does cancer affect your bones? 

    If you have cancer affecting your bones, you might be more at risk of a break or fracture. You must avoid putting too much strain on the affected bones. You could try swimming or exercising in water. The water supports your body weight, so the skeleton isn't stressed. Exercise such as yoga generally appears safe for everyone.

    Low Immunity

    People with low immunity due to treatment should try to avoid exercising in public gyms. Ask your medical team when it is safe to start exercising in the gym with other people. 

    Peripheral neuropathy

    Some people have a loss of sensation, or feelings of pins and needles, in their hands and feet. This can be due to cancer treatments. It is called peripheral neuropathy. If you have this, it might be better to use a stationary bike than to do other types of weight bearing exercise.

    After certain types of surgery

    After certain types of surgery, you might have to wait before you can exercise like you used to. Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse for advice on what types of exercise you can do.

     For more tips during recovery read - 'Why Rest is Important' 

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