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Whether you’re fighting or you’ve fought cancer, it can be incredibly difficult to motivate yourself to get active again, but new research suggests that exercise plays a key role in improving your cardiovascular health and quality of life during treatment.

A study at the University of Porto, Portugal found that aerobic and resistance training significantly counteracted the side-effects of women undergoing treatment for advanced breast cancer.

The researchers looked at fifteen women aged between 34 and 68 years old who were being treated for metastatic breast cancer, but were not exercising. They assessed each participant’s cardiovascular fitness by measuring their VO2max (the amount of oxygen in their bodies while doing aerobic exercise), and their VO2max power (the rate of maximum power during exercise).

Eight of the women were given a 12-week exercise programme, consisting of a combination of aerobic and weight-bearing exercises for one hour twice a week. After the 12 weeks, their VO2max had increased by an average of 12.3%, while their VO2max power had increased by 37.2%.

The remaining seven participants, who continued with their normal care, also saw an improvement – but a comparatively smaller VO2max increase of 2.7%, and a VO2max power increase of 3.9%.

Before the study was conducted, the participants were also asked to fill out a questionnaire about fatigue, pain and quality of life.

The exercising group found that after 12 weeks of working out there was a:

  • 21.4 point reduction in pain
  • 14.4 point reduction in fatigue
  • 16.6 point improvement for emotional wellbeing
  • 14.9 point improvement in ability to carry out normal daily tasks

The exercising group found that after 12 weeks of working out there was a:

  • 2.6 point reduction in pain
  • 2.2 point reduction in fatigue
  • 11.0 point improvement for emotional wellbeing
  • 0.1 point deterioration in ability to carry out normal daily tasks

The results suggest that the bodies of women exercising become better at transporting oxygen around the body, with hearts pumping blood and muscles using oxygen more efficiently.

Eduardo Oliveira, Professor of Exercise Physiology, says: “In this study, we have demonstrated that these women are able to take part in a well-planned exercise programme and that there are measurable benefits to their health and well-being. This is a small group of patients but the results suggest that this is something worth exploring for a much larger group of women.”

Aside from exercise, what else can you do if you are being, or have been, treated for cancer?

We spoke to Dr Felicity Williamson, the Health Programmes Manager at Trekstock, a charity that works to help people ‘thrive through and beyond cancer’, about how people can get back on track with their fitness and wellbeing after the big C.

She talked us through the most important things to remember and aim for.

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Keep Moving

During and after treatment energy levels are zapped and you need rest.

But it’s important to try and keep moving even when it’s the last thing you want to do. If you can, try and incorporate an individualised exercise plan designed by a professional during, and after your treatment

READ: What’s Your Skin Cancer Risk?

Exercise Will Boost Your Energy

Cancer treatment makes you feel weak and exhausted and while we don’t suggest running a marathon, a bit of exercise will actually help that feeling.

Working out, even a small amount, will boost your cardiovascular fitness, help strengthen muscles and actually give you energy. Just remember to take it slow.

READ: 4 Yoga Moves For Instant Energy

It’s Not Just About Your Body

Keeping fit and active during or after cancer treatment not only gives you more physical energy, it will also blow away the cobwebs a bit in your mind.

Whether you’re a person who already incorporated fitness into their life before treatment, or just liked getting outside the fresh air, you’ll be surprised what a little bit of movement can do for your mental wellbeing.

READ: How To Practice Mindfulness On Your Commute

Make Realistic Aims

Post-treatment cancer exercise guidelines are the same as those given to the general public. They don’t account for your exercise tolerance, specific cancer type and any consequences of treatment, so don’t feel bad if you’re no where near it.

It’s great to have a goal, and if you can reach it that’s wonderful, but know your limitations and try not to be downhearted if you can’t stick to the UK guidelines, which is one of the following:

  • At least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity – Example: Cycling or fast walking every week
  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity – Example: Running or a game of singles tennis every week
  • An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week

READ: The Yoga Poses For Ultimate Relaxation

You’re Not Alone

It’s very important to remember that there are other people who’ve been through the same things. THRIVE is an online platform from Trekstock that offers people access to advice and information on recovery.

If you’re not feeling good about your appearance, take a look at Look Good Feel Better, a charity dedicated to giving compassionate and effective advice for dealing with the physical results of treatment.

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