How Exercising Improves Lung Cancer
Many people with lung cancer are under the impression that they should be resting up. And while the body certainly needs some rest when recovering from lung cancer, it also needs healthy activity.
How Exercise Improves Lung Cancer Outcomes
- Fighting cancer. Physical activity affects cancer at a microscopic level. In fact, a 2017 study in the journal Cancer Research shows that physical activity reduces tumors’ ability to grow, slowing cancer progression and metastasis to neighboring tissues. Exercise may reduce the risk of cancer reoccurrence.
- Reducing the risk of surgical complications. Like all forms of major surgery, lung cancer resections and lobectomies carry some risk. The most common complications include pneumonia, wound infections and blood clots.
- Aiding cellular recovery. Exercise can change the way our body responds to inflammation, improve immune function and even change the way our cells repair their DNA. This means improved healing of tissues affected by surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.
- Improving energy levels. Exercise is the most successful and only evidence-based intervention to reduce fatigue during and following cancer treatment. The exact mechanisms aren’t clear, but exercise may work its magic by directly affecting the central nervous system.
- Boosting sleep quality. Move during the day to sleep well at night. In a 2016 British Journal of Cancer study, a 12-week at-home walking routine was enough to significantly improve sleep quality in people with lung cancer. This may be one more reason energy levels improve when people exercise.
- Increasing lung capacity. Regular activity, stretching and moving your body can improve back, rib, shoulder mobility to allow for freer movement of the diaphragm and the other muscles that support respiration. The result: You’re able to take in more oxygen and expel more carbon dioxide with each breath.
- Improving mental and emotional health. Physical activity helps patients with their emotional and psychological well-being, which is a critical aspect of long-term outcomes for cancer. Depression and anxiety are major problems for people battling lung cancer and can reduce overall quality of life as well as make it more difficult to make healthy choices that will benefit lung cancer recovery.
- Supporting muscle. Loss of muscle mass during or after lung cancer treatment is associated with an increased risk of cancer recurrence. Maintaining physical activity is an important part of preserving muscle mass.
- Reducing the risk and severity of comorbidities. People with lung cancer often have heart disease and other lung conditions that can compromise their overall health and quality of life. Exercise is a great tool in the management of most common preexisting health conditions you may have.
How to Exercise with Lung Cancer
Nearly all patients can engage in some type of physical activity during all aspects of their treatment, but type and amount will vary, For example, medical teams recommend all people with lung cancer participate in prehab exercises even before treatments start. And people coming out of surgery can perform gentle physical therapy exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing once medically stable with solid vitals. People undergoing surgery will have some activity restrictions (no pushing, pulling or raising the arms above 90 degrees) in the weeks following their procedure.
Furthermore, following surgery, some medical plans include at-home visits from physical and occupational therapists. If receiving skilled therapy services at home, it is important to continue exercising and being physically active on the days therapy is not scheduled in order to avoid functional decline.
The key is training at intensities that are appropriate for your overall health, and understanding that, even under the best circumstances, strength and endurance can decrease with lung cancer and treatments. Practice patience and focus on using physical activity as a way to feel better. If you experience any shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pains, palpitations or new pain, weakness or balance difficulties, stop what you’re doing and talk to your doctor for advice on how to best move forward in your recovery.