Cancer and weight training have not always been words you would see in the same sentence. The old school of thought was that cancer patients during treatment and recovery needed to rest not test their muscles. Now thanks to greater attention to optimizing wellness for cancer patients we now know that weight training done within reasonable limits and with a physician’s approval can help not hinder cancer patients. Advances in research in both sports medicine and in cancer treatment modalities point to cancer and weight training as something that could and should be considered.
Cancer Weight Training Research Shows Great Results
A study published last year in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise looked at both men and women who were being treated or had completed treatment for several types of cancer.
The study subjects did light to moderate weight training two to three times a week. After 12 weeks, researchers found that they all had an increased their muscle mass.
After one year, the favorable results were even better. The participants reported an improvement in their quality of life with a significant decrease in cancer-related fatigue, a typical and long-lasting side effect for most cancer survivors.
Weight Training Reported to Help Prevent Cancer Deaths
Weight training at a very moderate level was reported to possibly reduce the risk of cancer by 40 percent.
A team of experts, led by scientists from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, tracked the lifestyles of 8,677 men for more than two decades. The men who regularly worked out with weights and had the highest muscle strength were between 30 percent and 40 percent less likely to die from cancer during the study time period.
The researchers theorize that it may be possible to reduce cancer mortality by weight training of the major muscle groups at least two days a week. Their report was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.
What is Weight Training?
Weight training is a type of strength training that uses weights for resistance. It is also sometimes called resistance training. Weight training puts stress on the muscles. This causes them to adapt and become stronger.
Weight training can be done using handheld free weights. These come in different weights and you generally start with a small weight and build up to heavier ones. Weight training can also be done using weight machines that allow you to adjust the level of resistance. You can also increase your strength through other types of resistance exercises, such as by using your body weight, as in push-ups, or stretchy resistance bands you can pull like big rubber bands.
Weight training even can be done while sitting in a chair. To achieve health benefits for cancer and weight training, you can work at whatever level your physician recommends.
Cancer Weight Training Benefits
If you are someone in treatment for or recovering from cancer, weight training can have a positive impact on your life in many ways.
Strengthen bones – The gravitational pull of muscles against bones as you weight train stimulates bones to form new bone cells. This strengthens the bone and reduces risk of bone fractures.
Improve Circulation – Muscle tissue, unlike fat, contain blood cells and help improve the circulation of blood through the body, especially during exercise.
More Energy, Less Fatigue – The improved flow of blood and oxygen through the body as a result of exercise can help reduce fatigue and increase energy.
Better Appetite – Keeping the body active through exercising and building muscle tissue can help improve appetite.
Greater Agility and Balance – Building stronger muscles can help you maintain better balance when standing and walking. It can also help you reach for things and get up from a chair or out of a car more easily.
Cancer Weight Training – How to Start
Want to get started? Check first with your oncologist. If they give you the green light, ask for a referral to meet with a sports medicine physician, an exercise physiologist, physical therapist, recreation therapist or a rehabilitation specialist. These are all specially trained physical health professionals who can design a personalized weight training regimen for you and supervise your weight training workouts to ensure safety, proper range of motion and the correct techniques. For example, they will be able to tell if you are jerking the weights too much and need to try a lower weight so you don’t strain any muscles or ligaments. They will also note when a level of weight seems that it has become too light for you to derive additional benefits and may recommend that you increase your challenge.
They may also provide an array of different equipment such as free weights and different strength resistance bands to help you find what works best for you.
Perhaps your local hospital or cancer treatment center may offer a gym with weight training machinery and personal trainers who specialize in cancer and weight training. If the facility offers group classes, that may be a great way to get started. Research has shown that participating in exercise in a group setting can improve motivation and attendance. It’s like being part of a team. Often group classes are set to music. A good beat can help maintain a steady pace and make the repetitions more fun.
Cancer Weight Training At Home
As you recover from treatment of your cancer, weight training may be easier for you to do at home. Exercising with free weights and resistance bands is an inexpensive easy way to develop a home routine. Colorful free weights with a soft easy-to-grip surfaces and resistance bands with handles are available in the sports section of most large sporting goods retail stores. You can put together a fun music playlist on your home computer, phone or tablet to help you keep motivated and on track.
It is still a good idea to check with your doctor first and to have a trained professional design a program for you. They will show you how to use the same free weights to exercise different muscle groups and how many repetitions you should do for each. It’s worth checking whether your insurance provides home visits from an occupational therapist.
Resistance training can help to increase strength, range of motion and balance which is important as you recover from cancer treatment. Remember to begin slowly with lower intensity until you feel comfortable moving up a level to higher intensity. Even low intensity exercise makes a difference in your health and can make you feel better.