Diet & Weight Magazine

Gaining Fitness Participation from Cancer Patients

By Roserighter @roserighter

By guest author David Haas Regular exercise has long been known to lower the risk of many chronic diseases, including most types of cancer. Studies on the effects of exercise during and after cancer treatment have had positive results, but researchers have encountered a significant hurdle in finding these results. Whether patients are receiving treatment for curable cancers, in remission, or receiving palliative care such as treatment for mesothelioma, large numbers tend to prematurely dropout of studies. Part of the problem is with design. Studies require some degree of standardization, which becomes more important the larger the study. Epidemiologists have noted another problem. Cancer patients tend to be less fit than the general population. The symptoms of treatment and stress of diagnosis, while manageable with regular exercise, set up significant barriers to continued participation. Treatment clinics are being urged to include fitness experts on their teams, and the following tactics may be employed by them or by patients to increase the likelihood of continued participation. Understanding the BenefitsThe first step to gaining patient commitment to any complimentary therapy is accurately describing potential benefits. Exercise is a unique therapy that positively impacts every aspect of health. Aerobic exercise strengthens the circulation, balances the metabolism and hormone production, and increases oxygen flow throughout the body. Weight-bearing exercise builds lean muscle at a faster rate, and the stress on connective tissues promotes increase in bone mineral density. Most common symptoms, including fatigue, nausea, other digestive upset, emotional disorders, and insomnia, can be mitigated with regular exercise. Increase in circulation is partly responsible for the increased success of treatments found in some studies. Post-operative patients can regain mobility and achieve overall recovery faster with the use of specific exercises. Physically fit survivors face a lower rate of recurrence.  Researchers typically use these benefits to entice patients into joining studies, yet studies still experience high drop-out rates. According to one study, the greatest factors predicting adherence to the program were experience of fatigue and other symptoms and the patient's history of exercise. Acknowledging these factors in program design may help maintain participation. Designing for the IndividualStandardized exercise programs are ill-suited for many cancer patients. Those receiving outpatient treatment for more common types are the most likely to create and stay with their own program. Fitness experts recognize the need for patients to begin exercise at a lower intensity than their current level of fitness. Besides preventing over-exertion and injuries, ensuring early success is a psychological tool to prepare participants for later challenges.  Using the Power of CommunityAnother important tool is people power. Attempting to tackle any problem alone is more difficult for most people. Some patients may actually do better alone, but most will find increased success when exercising with a specific person or group of people. This could mean exercising with their grandchildren, spouse, family or friends, or simply a group of people facing the same challenges. The only way to know is to ask the individual and investigate their history of relationships.
Emotional Investment Matters A fact known by every school teacher is that children will gladly strive to meet a challenge and stick with any difficult task only so long as they perceive it to be important to them. The same is true for everyone. People are more motivated to do things that touch them on an emotional level. Applying this lesson to problem of maintaining patient participation requires expanding the traditional view of exercise as walking, running, cycling, and lifting weights. The good news is researchers have found no difference between alternative and traditional physical activities. A patient in palliative care may be able to manage five minute walks with great difficulty and pain. This effort could easily be mirrored in a more meaningful activity for the individual. Gardening, for instance, promotes range of motion and requires some degree of physical exertion depending on the specific type of gardening. Treatment clinics and hospitals could go a long way toward increasing participation in exercise by providing alternatives like this.  Other patients with higher degrees of function may find their meaning in martial arts, dance, yoga, hiking wilderness areas, and other overlooked activities or non-contact sports. It will not be required to travel to a wilderness area every time the hiker-patient needs exercise either. Once the positive association has been established, patients will be more likely to struggle through difficult aerobics and weight lifting routines. They know on an emotional level that success will make it easier for them to participate in favored activities.The most successful program should combine elements of each discussed element of gaining participation. One individual may thrive most by gardening with grandchildren, and they will engage aerobic programs despite fatigue in order to have the extra energy for gardening. Lasting success requires approaching each patient as an individual.
Joining the organization in 2011, David Haas is a cancer support group and awareness program advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. In addition to researching the many valuable programs available to our site’s visitors, David often blogs about programs and campaigns underway at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, as well as creative fitness ideas for those dealing with cancer, while creating relationships with similar organizations.

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