Cancer Patient in rehab working on movement


Just Move: A Step-by-Step Approach to Physical Fitness for Cancer Survivors

Posted By Samman Shahpar, MD


Coping with Cancer Online


As a medical doctor specializ­ing in cancer rehabilitation, I often find myself echoing a common refrain to those around me: just move. Inactivity has both a direct and an indirect effect on our health and func­tion. Historically, we, as a society and as medical professionals, have often underestimated the effects of inactivity. Over the past several years, a shift in thinking has begun.

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the many studies that have reported on the health risks of inactivity and the health benefits of standing or moving. Although you can argue about the details of these studies, the premise of inactivity as a bad thing for our bodies is no longer debatable.

However, the advice concerning the approach that individuals, particularly cancer survivors, should take to pre­vent or reverse the effects of inactivity is quite confusing. We’re bombarded daily with “quick fixes”: standing desks as a new form of exercise machine (not to mention the next-step-up version, treadmill desks), as well as new exercise products and programs that tout their effectiveness but may not have research to back them up.

What are we to make of this product and information overload?


My initial, honest response to that question is often a disappointing “I don’t know.” I actu­ally don’t like to think about trying to find an answer to that question. I prefer to reframe our perspective and ask a different question.

What can we control to put our bodies and our health in the best position to thrive?


Well, thankfully, we know a few things that can help answer that question. 

  • We know that even without the effects of our bodies fighting cancer, short pe­riods of inactivity can lead to a significant decline in our bodies’ organ systems.
  • We know that due to cancer and the various treatments used to control or cure the disease, survivors often face physical, mental, and emotional barriers to becoming active. 
  • We know that exercise and increased physical activity improve our bodies’ internal mechanisms to heal and fight the development of cancerous cells. 
  • We know that increased physical activity is associated with decreased risk of at least 13 different types of cancers. 
  • We know that increased physical activity is associated with improved survival in several types of cancers, including breast cancer, lung cancer, and brain tumors. Given this knowledge, we can take a step-by-step approach to physical fitness.

To read the Four Steps to take control of your health, visit Coping with Cancer.

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