Strength Work Outs are Cancer Winners

Cancer thrivers thrive with strength training

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Exercise is vitally important for people who have won their battle against cancer. A new study finds that a particular type of physical activity is especially beneficial.

Not only is strength training safe for those in recovery from cancer, but it offers a number of physical, mental, emotional and social benefits as well.

"Keep moving, as exercise is great for your body and mind."

In a 12-week program called “Exercise and Thrive,"  Karen Syrjala, Ph.D., co-director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Survivorship Program, worked with 221 people who had been successfully treated for cancer - people dailyRx refers to as "cancer thrivers" and "cancer winners."

The study was a partnership with Seattle-area YMCAs and focused on strength training, which was selected because Syrjala says cancer often results in muscle loss and fatigue. Strength training, she notes, can rebuild both muscle and energy.

The program was supervised by personal trainers who had received special training about working with people who have had cancer.

The training looked at the emotional needs of these individuals, along with potential hazards of strength training, which can include triggering lymphedema, a condition in which lymph fluids accumulate and cause swelling.

"As long as survivors are properly introduced to the exercise program so that they do not workout too intensely in the beginning, I believe that added strength is almost always a positive benefit for people," said fitness expert, James Crowell.

"Their bodies had to undergo such a hardship that the fatigue level will make it challenging for them to begin a program," Crowell told dailyRx. "But, when they stick with it, it's my experience that they feel far more energized.

They also tend to feel much happier and confident than they did before working out because they are making tangible progress each and every day," said Crowell, who is owner and head trainer of Integrated Fitness in Pittsburgh.

The study found that the program did offer a number of benefits. The training helped to improve physical function, fatigue, insomnia, musculoskeletal symptoms, mental health, social support and overall physical activity.

Participants also saw measurable improvements in blood pressure, upper and lower body strength, endurance and flexibility. These results were most profound among those who continued with the classes. Most everyone finished the program.

Syrjala, who is the study co-author, said in a news release announcing the results, “When people are tired they tend to want to rest until they feel better; and then resting becomes a habit."

The key is sticking with an exercise program. Syrjala explained that studies have shown people who were active before cancer tend to become inactive afterwards. And those who weren't so active before the disease don't usually become more active after the disease.

Also, better than half of oncologists don't inquire about a patient's physical activity. Yet, exercise has been shown to be beneficial throughout treatment, "as early as at the time of diagnosis," Syrjala said. So, "earlier intervention by health care providers to prescribe safe exercise programs may be warranted,” she said.

The study was supported with funding from the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the Amgen Foundation of Washington State.

Other researchers involved in this study  included Scott Baker, M.D., co-director of the Hutchinson Center Survivorship Program; Emily Jo Rajotte, Survivorship Program administrator; Jean C. Yi, a staff scientist in the Hutchinson Center’s Clinical Research Division; Lindsey Gregerson of the YMCA of Greater Seattle; and Andrea Leiserowitz of Oncology Physical Therapy, Eugene, Ore.

This study was published online in January, 2012 in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 9, 2012
Last Updated:
January 11, 2012