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Movement After Cancer

Movement After Cancer

25 June 2020

The traditional notion of resting your body to overcome cancer treatment related fatigue has been debunked a long while ago now. Instead the research is heavily supportive of exercise and movement.

Research shows that moving your body during and after cancer treatment can help with:

  • Improved mood
  • Improved physical function
  • Improved strength and muscle mass
  • Improved quality of life
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness
  • Improved fatigue
  • And most importantly reduce the risk of recurrence

However, in the many years that I have worked in the cancer setting as a Physiotherapist I've found that for many the concept of exercise can be overwhelming. Particularly after extensive cancer treatment and overpowering fatigue the idea can seem a bit far-fetched.  So, let's try to deconstruct this thinking into a few points.

Firstly: Your body has gone through some significant changes. How is your post-treatment recovery? Are there limitations in your movement? Do you still have areas of pain or swelling 4 weeks after surgery? Make sure to address these concerns with your treating team. Exercise in these early stages will mean moving normally and returning to your baseline level of function. Allowing your body to heal with gentle movements is the goal.

Secondly: How much is enough? And how much is too much? Your body is going to be the best judge of this! How you feel the next day is always a great indicator. Start with walking. Short manageable distances one or twice a day. Pacing is just as important as the moving itself. Record in a diary how you are feeling afterwards today as well as tomorrow. Track your mood, track your fatigue, and track any aches or pains. If you are feeling good try to increase the distance and maybe add something new. Remember the goal is to keep feeling better. If you are in pain or have less energy to do your everyday tasks there's a chance you may be over doing it.

Thirdly: Through muscle memory, your body is conditioned to your routines and movement patterns from prior to treatment or surgery. Slowly returning to those routines is encouraged within the first year after surgery and/or radiotherapy. If exercise wasn't on your agenda before that's really ok, and now would be a good time to start. The idea is to work out what exercise means to you. What will you enjoy and what will you keep up? And that's not going to mean the same thing for everybody. Start with small achievable goals, eg. grooving to your favorite beats, opting to walk instead of drive, taking the stairs over the lift. All  are perfectly acceptable lifestyle changes that are going to compound and get you one step closer to a healthier you.


Disclaimer: Returning to prior exercise regimes are best supervised and progressed by a Specialised Cancer Rehab Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist. Please do not hesitate to contact me on Physio@miog.com.au if you have any personal questions about your physical recovery that you would like to discuss. I'm always keen for a chat 

About the Author: Sachini Ganhewa

Sach is an experienced Lymphedema Physiotherapist, with over 10 years experience at a number of large hospitals and in private practice. She is passionate about educating patients on what to expect after surgery and providing the tools to minimise complications down the track.

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