Physical activity plays an important role in the health, well-being, and quality of life for all Canadians. However, few would think that exercise can help those people who are currently battling cancer themselves. Stereotypical depictions of cancer patients and the treatments they receive has caused many Canadians to believe that bedrest is the only option for someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. Although bed rest may be required during intense periods of treatment, physical activity is not always a bad thing, and is usually encouraged. In fact, numerous studies have shown that physical activity is not only effective at improving cancer patients’ health outcomes, but also in their caregivers’ health.1
After receiving treatment, many cancer patients do not get enough physical activity, and as a result, they develop more sedentary lifestyles. Inactivity is a major factor in determining their overall health outcomes, including their own cancer prognoses, and can impact the rate of cancer recurrence.2 Thus, getting sufficient physical activity should be a priority for anyone who has or has had cancer.
Fortunately, exercise can take many shapes and forms – it doesn’t always mean going to the gym, lifting weights, or even doing strenuous cardiovascular activity. Fitness gaming, or “exergaming” – a term used for video games that are also a form of exercise – is a new form of physical activity that relies on technology to track body movements and reactions. Compared with traditional non-active video games, exergaming can contribute to significant amounts of overall daily physical activity, particularly in those who cannot engage in traditional forms of exercise.3
Despite knowing the value of exercise in cancer, depression, which is commonly co-diagnosed with cancer, can be a significant barrier to getting sufficient physical activity. Although the symptoms of depression (including low mood, decreased motivation, poor energy, and decreased sleep) may undermine someone’s ability to get exercise or even get out of bed, activity itself may be a suitable treatment to address depression symptoms, particularly in young adults.4
Overall, the research shows that exercise and physical activity can benefit people with cancer in numerous ways. The message we’d like to communicate is that if you can get any physical activity, you will reap many benefits!
- Ann Behav Med. 2016 Jul 20. A Descriptive Systematic Review of Physical Activity Interventions for Caregivers: Effects on Caregivers’ and Care Recipients’ Psychosocial Outcomes, Physical Activity Levels, and Physical Health. Lambert SD, Duncan LR, Kapellas S, Bruson AM, Myrand M, Santa Mina D, Culos-Reed N, Lambrou A.
- Ann Epidemiol. 2014 Nov;24(11):837-42. Identification and prediction of physical activity trajectories in women treated for breast cancer. Brunet J, Amireault S, Chaiton M, Sabiston CM.
- J Phys Act Health. 2015 Jun;12(6):789-93. doi: 10.1123/jpah.2013-0447. Epub 2014 Aug 15. The Association Between Exergaming and Physical Activity in Young Adults. Kakinami L, O’Loughlin EK, Dugas EN, Sabiston CM, Paradis G, O’Loughlin J.
- Prev Med. 2014 Sep;66:45-8. Physical activity motivation mediates the association between depression symptoms and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Scarapicchia TM, Sabiston CM, O’Loughlin E, Brunet J, Chaiton M, O’Loughlin JL.
This article was written by Dr. Anees Bahji, Psychiatry Resident at Queen’s University.