Every cancer patient should be prescribed exercise medicine

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Every injury or illness is an opportunity to return fitter & stronger. Even when you are diagnosed with cancer. Athletes like Bibian Mentel (three-fold Winter Paralympics gold-medalist) and Maarten van der Heijden (Olympian gold-medalist at 10 km open water marathon race) were diagnosed with cancer during their professional sport careers. Because of their positive attitude, will power and stamina they reached their dream goals despite moments of anxiety, insecurity and sadness.

Research shows exercise can help cancer patients tolerate aggressive treatments like surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Exercise on a regular basis will minimise the physical declines caused by cancer, counteract cancer-related fatigue, relieve mental distress and improve quality of life. When exercising you experience what you can do. Even being outside in fresh air has positive effects on your body and mind.

Apart from cancer-related fatigue muscle loss and decrease in physical fitness are possible side effects from cancer treatment. Also cancer in itself has these effects. To slow down this proces you need to do aerobic exercise at moderate intensity at least 150 minutes per week combined with resistance training 2-3 times per week. Your protein intake during the day and after exercise are equally important. Within one hour after exercise 20-25g protein is advised.

This much exercise may seem out of reach for some patients. In all cases a sports medicine specialist with experience in cancer care can design an individual program based on the patient’s disease, how they’ve responded to treatment and the anticipated trajectory of their health status. A tailored programme based on patient’s needs and interests that can be adjusted will maximise exercise benefits. To challenge yourself from time to time won’t hurt. Surprise yourself!

As for professional athletes patients should take time for recovery and relaxation. When cancer is diagnosed you find yourself on a riding train. Medical investigations and follow up, treatments, friends and family who want to show their support…it takes a lot of energy apart from your personal emotions. Some patients may continue working. All activities should be balanced over the day with time for exercise and recovery on a regular basis. In case of fever you should not exercise. If you wake up more tired than the morning before exercise my advice is to do some light aerobic training that day. Keeping an exercise log can help to gain understanding in your own ideal exercise programme.

When you are diagnosed with cancer you can always do more than you think you can. Exercise medicine is part of the treatment of cancer and returning fitter & stronger.

Picture: Kick off meeting Prehabilitation 2016, Maxima Medisch Centrum Veldhoven (me in the middle)

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