ACSM Urges Cancer Survivors to Exercise

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 June 2010.  New guidelines issued this month by the American College of Sports Medicine recommend cancer survivors to try to exercise for two and a half hours per week. These new guidelines are advising cancer survivors to exercise more, even those who haven’t yet finished their treatment.

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is the largest, most respected sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world.

Physical activity improves quality of life and relieves some cancer-related tiredness. More, it can help fend off a serious decline in physical function that can last long after therapy is finished.

Consider: In one year, a 45-year-old women who needs chemotherapy for her breast cancer may find herself with the fatter, weaker body type of a 55-year-old without exercise.

Scientists have long recommended that being overweight and sedentary increases the risk for various cancers. Among the nation’s nearly 12 million cancer survivors, there are hints that people who are more active may lower risk of a recurrence. And like everyone who ages, the longer cancer survivors live, the higher their risk for heart disease that exercise definitely fights.

The American College of Sports Medicine convened a panel of cancer and exercise specialists to evaluate the evidence. Guidelines issued this month recommend cancer survivors to aim for the same amount of exercise as recommended for the average person: about 2 1/2 hours a week.

Patients still in treatment may not feel up to that much, the guidelines acknowledge, but should avoid inactivity on their good days.

People with cancer usually get less active as symptoms or treatments make them feel lousy. Plus, certain therapies can weaken muscles, bones, even the heart. Not that long ago, doctors advised taking it easy.

Not anymore: Be as active as you’re able.  Even a little is beneficial, walk  the dog, play a little golf. You can feel more energy’ with the right exercise.

But anyone starting more vigorous activity for the first time or who has particular risks — like the painful arm swelling called lymphedema that some breast cancer survivors experience — may need more specialized exercise advice, Schmitz says. They should discuss physical therapy with their oncologist, she advises.

A major study that found careful weight training can protect against lymphedema, reversing years of advice to coddle the at-risk arm. But the average fitness trainer doesn’t know how to safely offer that special training. So look for a trainer with advanced certifications like I have such as Clinical Exercise Specialist or Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist from American Council on Exercise.