Chemotherapy takes so much out of you…
It can leave you exhausted, nauseous, confused and unable to focus (chemo brain), and even worse — at risk for other health problems, including heart disease.
That’s because not only does chemotherapy wear out your immune system so that you are open to picking up every little bug that goes around, it can also cause what’s known as cardiotoxicity. This is when the treatment you are receiving for your cancer impairs your heart function and structure or accelerates your development of cardiovascular disease.
Yup, the treatment that is saving you from dying of cancer can actually give you heart disease — the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S.
You’re more likely to end up with heart problems after chemotherapy if you’re already predisposed to them because of risk factors like high blood pressure.
That’s why, when you’re diagnosed with cancer, your doctor will advise you to eat healthily, quit smoking, control your weight, and exercise.
And, you might be surprised by the fact that all of those recommendations, even exercise, hold true, even during chemotherapy when you might not even feel like getting out of bed, much less getting your 10,000 steps for the day.
Tailored exercise program to address your specific needs
In fact, a new paper, just published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology is once again taking a good look at the reasons behind that exercise recommendation for cancer patients.
“Cancer patients are often less active than adults without cancer,” said author Dr. Flavio D’Ascenzi, University of Siena, Italy. “However, exercise is essential for patients diagnosed with cancer who are under treatment, irrespective of the type of treatment.”
And, according to the researchers, that exercise should be tailored and an individual exercise plan created that takes into account your:
- Personal history
- Cancer treatment
- Response to exercise
- Personal preferences
They also say that if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, your exercise should start as soon as possible. This can mean beginning getting more physical activity even before starting the treatment your doctor prescribes, like chemotherapy in order to protect your heart.
As Dr. D’Ascenzi puts it, “Physical activity before, during and after cancer treatment can counteract the negative effects of therapies on the cardiovascular system. In addition, it can relieve symptoms such as nausea and fatigue and help prevent unwanted changes in body weight.”
Cautions and types of exercise
The paper points out that to formulate your exercise prescription during cancer treatment, you’ll need a multidisciplinary team, including oncologists, cardiologists, physical therapists, nurses, nutritionists, and psychologists.
This team can set the appropriate ‘dose’ of your exercise, including the intensity, type of training, and training volume (the number of hours or minutes you’ll need to train each week).
They say that while endurance training is more effective to boost your heart function, resistance training is often the place to start if you have issues of frailty.
And, a few cautions to remember when you see your doctor…
If you have low hemoglobin levels, you should avoid high-intensity activities. Or, if you’re suffering from low platelet levels, contact sports are out, since you would have a difficult time clotting following an injury.
And, finally, activities that could increase the risk of fracture should be avoided if frailty is an issue.
So, if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, talk to your doctor about the exercise prescription that’s right for you to prevent the heart problems that too often follow cancer treatment.
Editor’s note: Integrative medicine invites conventional medicine to meet alternative therapies with one goal in mind: Surviving cancer. Discover everything you can about natural remedies, cancer-fighting supplements, foods and diets, how to juice to fight cancer and more! Click here for a preview!
- Chemotherapy Side Effects — American Cancer Society
- Heart Disease Facts — National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
- Cancer patients who exercise have less heart damage from chemotherapy — EurekAlert!