Physical Activity for Survivors

Physical Activity (exercise) for people diagnosed with cancer

Authors are of the Physical Activity section are Linda Burhansstipanov, MSPH, DrPH (Cherokee Nation) and Lisa Harjo, MEd (Choctaw Nation)

  • Physical activity is good to do
  • There are many good outcomes of daily exercise
  • These are for all people, but cancer survivors have even more important benefits
  • Most physical activity research has been done with breast, prostate, and colon cancer patients
  • These studies show that activity can reduce many side effects of cancer
  • Patients with cancer other than breast, prostate and colon also may benefit
  • Cancer survivors seldom get enough physical activity while going through their treatment
  • But, some activity is better than none
  • Physical activity helps reduce fatigue, memory loss and other side effects
  • Cancer survivors who have physical problems should check with their provider before beginning physical activity
  • Patients need to be careful for safety issues and use common sense

Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q)

  • Some questions to ask yourself. These are the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q):
    • Has your doctor ever said that you have a heart condition and that you should only perform physical activity recommended by a doctor?
    • Do you feel pain in your chest when you perform physical activity?
    • In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not performing any physical activity?
    • Do you lose your balance because of dizziness or do you ever lose consciousness?
    • Do you have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in your physical activity?
    • Is your doctor currently prescribing any medication for your blood pressure or for a heart condition?
    • Do you know of any other reason why you should not engage in physical activity?
  • If you answered "Yes" to one or more of the above questions:
    • Consult your doctor before starting to take part in physical activity.
    • Tell your doctor which questions you answered "Yes" to
    • After a medical exam, ask your doctor what type of activity is okay for your current condition

Survivorship and Activity (During & Following Cancer Treatments)

  • While going through cancer treatments, few patients feel well enough to take part in physical activity
  • In years past, doctors recommended "rest"
    • They still do when you are not feeling well
    • You need to make certain your body has had time to heal from surgery
    • You do not want to tear any stiches or injure yourself in any way
  • But there are changes since the 2000s.
    • What a surprise! Now research shows cancer survivors who take part in some movement and activity, even if a small amount can help themselves
    • How? Well, physical activity helps shorten the length of time patients feel fatigue
      • This is by several months!
    • Activity also helps reduce pain and "chemo brain" in a lot of patients
  • Getting out of bed and walking around the house may be a major effort at first
    • Some days are better than others and energy levels go up and down
    • Be patient with yourself
    • Do what you can and do not risk injury to yourself
  • The cancer has caused enough injury to your body, mind, emotions and spirit
  • Let yourself take part in physical activity when you feel able
  • You may need to wait until your treatment ends or as you recover from your cancer treatment before becoming active
  • Obviously, physical activity is good for people who do not have cancer (like your family members and friends)
  • Research shows that physical activity reduces the risk of most cancers by up to 30% and plays a role in lowering your risk of other cancers (breast, colon, prostate)
  • Ask your family and friends to do activities with you; it helps them too.