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Studies say Walking or Cycling May Help Cancer-related Fatigue

Pat Guth contributes news and insightful content for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Patricia Guth

November 21, 2012

Most cancer patients suffer from extreme fatigue. The cause can be the cancer itself or a result of common cancer treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy. Now, researchers say that an analysis of nearly three dozen studies about cancer-related fatigue confirm that activities such as walking and cycling may help combat this overwhelming tiredness.

According to a Reuters Health article, doctors have determined that light to moderate exercise can assist in boosting a cancer patient's energy, including during treatment, and walking and cycling are suggested because they fall into the moderate category and can be accomplished with little or no cost to the patient. Furthermore, they are forms of exercise that patients can do according to their own schedule without having to go to a gym or other facility.

"We're not expecting people to go out and be running a mile the next day," said Fiona Cramp of University of the West of England in Bristol, a researcher who worked on the analysis of the various related studies. "Some people will be well enough that they're able to go for a jog or go for a bike ride, and if they can, that's great. But we would encourage people to start with a low level of activity," she confirmed. She suggested a 20-minute walk a few times each day.

After analyzing 38 studies involving some 2,600 people, Cramp and her colleagues determined that aerobic exercise like walking and riding a bike tending to increase energy more than resistance-type exercises like weight lifting. Most individuals, she adds, think the best way to avoid fatigue is to get lots of rest when, in fact, avoiding physical activity can actual compound physical problems, including loss of muscle mass.

But, Cramp stresses, patients with different kinds of cancer and at different stages will obviously vary as far as how much exercise they can tolerate. Many of the studies showed that patients with some sort of hematologic cancer (leukemia, lymphoma) had a more difficult time with endurance because their cancer affects their blood cell counts. On the other hand, breast and prostate cancer patients did very well with moderate exercise, even while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation.

"Cancer patients should of course first talk with their doctor to see if it's safe to exercise," says Carol Enderlin, who studied the connection between fatigue and cancer at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. "If it's felt they are safe to exercise, they should maintain a level of at least comfortable activity in order to keep up their endurance, to keep up their strength (and) to promote function."

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