The Role of Exercise in Holistic Cancer Care

— BY Condition Information | Reading Time: 2 min

Sporty woman drinking water

A common question I receive from cancer patients is, “How does fitness influence my outcomes?” The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise in cancer care — but there is a method to build in healthy, sustainable, reasonable amounts of exercise through all phases of the cancer journey. The key is to have a practitioner who can update fitness protocol to meet your needs.

At Neurvana Naturopathic Medicine, our practitioners work alongside conventional cancer care teams to generate a comprehensive treatment plan, no matter the condition. As a Naturopathic Doctor with a focus on integrative cancer treatments, it’s my job to guide patients through exercise regimens that not only improve quality of life but also better survival ratings long-term.

Here’s what you need to know about exercise as part of holistic cancer treatment.

Impacts of Exercise at the Beginning of Cancer Treatment 

When patients first begin cancer treatment, the focus is to maintain as much healthy, moderate-intensity exercise as possible. There is ample research to support that if we can maintain healthy levels of aerobic and anaerobic fitness (or weight-bearing exercises like walking and mild weight lifting), our patients have significantly better survival ratings long-term.

Now, I’m not just talking about a 1% to 2% change in survival. I’m talking about changes on par with some of the medications that we could potentially prescribe to treat cancer… exercise can be that powerful for giving you a better chance at long-term survival. In particular, patients diagnosed with breast, colon, and colorectal cancer can improve survival rates with consistent ​​physical activity.

Not to mention, building in healthy, moderate-intensity exercise has also been shown to drastically improve the quality of life of patients going through a variety of conventional and non-conventional cancer treatment approaches. Here at Neurvana, fitness regimens are curated based on exercises proven to improve fatigue scores, pain scores, and mobile function, and reduce brain fog.

Exercising woman touching her toes on the floor

Role of Fitness to Enhance Mobility Throughout Care

While it’s great to consider the benefits of exercise at the beginning of cancer care, we must also recognize that certain patients may be in situations where mobility becomes a very serious issue.  Despite limited mobility, there is still potential to significantly improve your quality of life and your long-term function with exercise. What’s important is that we’re constantly working at it.

The research has been quite conclusive that a leap from a sedentary lifestyle to a protocol of three to six exercise sessions per week can create qualitative differences in cancer cell proliferation. Regardless of cancer type or treatment, there are numerous ways to incorporate movement into your daily regimen, even if you’re not able to get out of bed at this point in your journey.

The answer is to work alongside a practitioner who will guide you along your cancer journey, check in with you on a regular basis, and update those treatment protocols and exercise regimens to best satisfy your present needs. In this way, we can maintain healthy levels of fitness throughout cancer care to enhance limited mobility and improve range of motion and strength during treatment.

Senior man with helpful volunteer in the garden of professional care home

Effects of Exercise in Remission and Repair Maintenance

After countless rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and integrative therapies on top of that, there’s nothing like the relief of being declared cancer-free. At Neurvana Naturopathic Medicine, the first three to six months after treatment are still considered part of active treatment. This is when we transition into a remission and repair maintenance phase for patients with an exercise regimen.

At this point, we’ll perform a detailed assessment — similar to the evaluation you receive when you first become a patient — to understand your baseline levels after undergoing cancer treatments. Various treatment side effects, especially from chemotherapy and radiation, can linger. Our goal is to alleviate any remaining side effects, so patients reach optimal function of health as fast as possible.

How Do You Know Your Limits in Cancer Care?

Another common question I receive from patients completing a fitness protocol is, “How much exercise is too much?” Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise in cancer care. Knowing how much or how often to push yourself with exercise is something that relies on a daily check-in with a practitioner who has a thorough understanding of your unique cancer journey.

As you progress through treatment, symptoms will fluctuate and change in intensity. You can anticipate varying levels of treatment-related side effects, like fatigue, pain, gastrointestinal disturbances, and cognitive changes (brain fog). If you’re suffering through a difficult period of side effects, pushing yourself too hard at those moments will actually be counterproductive.

Instead, this is the time to dial back that intensity. Stick with more gentle types of movement therapy, then start to build up the intensity to more of a moderate level once you feel ready. Remember, it’s okay to have days where you’re not feeling up to pushing yourself with exercise. A few days off will not make or break your outcomes, but they can improve your spirits.

Cancer patient visiting doctor for medical consultation in clini

Looking for integrative cancer care?

Fight cancer with fitness protocols customized to your needs. Let’s work together to achieve healthy and sustainable amounts of exercise throughout all phases of your cancer journey.