Regular physical activity can bring physical and psychological benefits among cancer patients. However, less than 20% of cancer individuals fail to reach the recommended exercise guidelines (30 mins of moderate physical activity daily, five times per week).
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health explored the role of physical activity in cancer recovery, from the perspective of exercise practitioners.
The research authors interviewed five exercise practitioners, four male and one female, to find out the physical activity engagement among cancer patients.
What are the benefits of physical activity for cancer patients?
Research shows that physical activity can work to improve cancer patients’ overall well-being in many ways, and it helps alleviate the cancer-related fatigue, reduce physical pain, reduce depression and anxiety and increase self-confidence.
Exercise practitioners talked about the important of social support from attending exercise program among cancer patients. Cancer patients in physical activity groups are around the individuals with shared experience and they can build a strong bond and social network to achieve a feeling of social connection like families and friends. They can provide psychological support with each other, which makes them look forward to the coming physical activity days.
However, there are exceptions in some cancer patients. Cancer patients suffering from hair loss during cancer treatment would like to attend online exercise program. People who don’t like being treated as cancer patients will choose the gym or home exercise programs.
Do cancer patients know the benefits of physical activity?
Exercise practitioners believed that cancer patients understand that regular physical activity can do good to their cancer recovery. One practitioner stated that young generation tend to have better understanding of the health benefits of physical activity than the elderly.
However, when it comes to psychological and social benefits from physical activity, a practitioner highlighted that cancer patients initially were unaware the non-physical benefits but they finally felt better in mood and noticed the function of physical activity on mental health. Another practitioner stated, in contrast, that their cancer patients have a strong understanding of the mental and social well-being from regular physical activity.
What are the barriers to physical activity engagement among cancer patients?
Exercise practitioners witnessed an improvement in the quality of life among cancer patients who are engaged in exercise programs. They revealed some potential barriers that discourage cancer patients to attend physical activity.
The first and most important barrier comes from the concern that physical activity is not safe in consideration of their poor health condition during cancer treatment. The traditional view remains quite overwhelming that cancer patients shall take a good rest at home and going outside will do harm to their body.
The second barrier is lack of knowledge about how significant the psychological benefits of physical activity are to help reduce depression and anxiety and improve their quality of life. The side effects of cancer treatments like fatigue make them feel incapable of achieving exercise goals.
Do health care practitioners prescribe physical activity to cancer patients?
Physical activity programs for cancer patients are a new field in the current cancer treatment system. Exercise practitioners revealed that many health care practitioners don’t know the clinical health benefits of physical activity on cancer patients, and that some know it but exercise prescriptions are less referred because a list of local exercise practitioners and their locations is not available.
Exercise practitioners advise that exercise practitioners shall be called to attend a treatment scheme meeting with existing health care team to discuss the feasibility of including a physical activity program as a part of the whole treatment scheme.
Still, some healthcare practitioners have no ideas of the number and the locations of exercise practitioners, which forces them give up referring physical activity treatment to their cancer patients.
What the government can do to promote physical activity for cancer patients?
Exercise practitioners believe that physical activity shall be considered a drug to improve the quality of life for cancer patients. NHS shall offer funding to support the exercise rehabilitation for cancer patients, but it is difficult to persuade the NHS commissioners to do so. The government shall train exercise practitioners to meet increasing exercise needs from cancer patients. Healthcare practitioners shall leave time to discuss the exercise programs and refer the physical activity to physically qualified cancer patients. Also, gym workers shall be trained to serve local cancer patients who would like to do physical activity near their house.
Physical activity plays a positive role in helping cancer recovery and more and more voices advocate taking physical activity as a drug for cancer patients. More efforts are needed in patient education, healthcare practitioner training, government policy and funding, etc.