5 January 2020 posted by Recovery Partners

The efficacy of exercise in treating cancer related fatigue

Evidence now shows that exercise is a highly effective treatment for Cancer Related Fatigue (CRF).  As a result, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) promotes the proactive prescription of exercise to cancer patients. 

What is cancer related fatigue?

Cancer Related Fatigue (CRF) is a serious problem that adversely affects cancer patients in various ways.  It can create obstacles to treatment adherence, and it has a demonstrably negative effect on patient outcomes. 

Cancer Related Fatigue is the feeling of tiredness and lack of energy that is a side effect of cancer and cancer treatment.  This fatigue tends to be chronic in character, sometimes not being dispelled by rest. 

People suffering from Cancer Related Fatigue sometimes don’t get back their normal energy levels until up to a year after cancer treatment ends.  It can take longer than this for some individuals. 

CRF has several different adverse effects.  Some of these include:

  • Difficulty in thinking clearly and concentrating
  • Lack of desire take part in daily life and do things such as bathing, eating, and talking with friends
  • Experiencing a sensation of heaviness in the body, especially in the legs and arms
  • Feeling mental, emotional, and/or physical exhaustion
  • Feeling the need for more sleep or experiencing difficulty in sleeping

Exercise can be the most effective cancer related fatigue treatment

Treatments for Cancer Related Fatigue fall into four general categories: psychological, exercise, the combination of psychological and exercise, and pharmaceutical. 

It has now been established that the most effective of these is exercise (when combined with psychological treatment).  This treatment should be administered both during and after cancer treatment.  Exercise is key to improving quality of life and well-being.  Additionally, it improves patient outcomes. (Read more here about the benefits of exercise when returning to work).

It is recommended that patients receive guidance from an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.  An Accredited Exercise Physiologist will help design an exercise program that considers the individual’s functional capacity, treatment status, physical limitations, and exercise preferences and history. 

While it’s true that exercise can sometimes be difficult when dealing with the effects of chemotherapy, its benefits make it well worth the extra effort.  Side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea and fatigue, can be alleviated with exercise.  Another important effect of exercise is its ability to strengthen the immune system, which is extremely supportive of health.

Additional ways to help manage cancer related fatigue

In addition to a suitable exercise program, there are numerous other things that patients can do to help with their CRF.  Some of these include:

  • Having several times of rest and naps during the course of the day.
  • Not pushing yourself too much. Know your limits and respect them.  Ask others for help when you need to.  
  • Do things that help you relax, such as meditating, reading, and listening to music.
  • Plan your day so that you have a lot of time to relax.
  • Make your goals small and manageable.
  • Keep yourself properly hydrated and eat healthily. Incorporate lots of grain-based foods and vegetables and fruits into your diet. 
  • Maintain a record of how you feel throughout the day. This will help you recognize patterns and better plan rest times.
  • Don’t have too many visitors if it makes you feel tired.
  • Bring more happiness and joy into your life.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol, as it can lead to loss of energy and tiredness.
  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking will deplete your energy.
  • (Read more here on how to manage the effects of fatigue ).
An essential factor in the management of cancer related fatigue

As exercise is essential to the most effective Cancer Related Fatigue management, it is a subject on which patients must speak to their doctors, caregivers, and Accredited Exercise Physiologists.

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“Fatigue,” https://www.cancervic.org.au/living-with-cancer/common-side-effects/fatigue

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