Tired after cancer treatment? Walking may help

Updated 21 November 2012

Tired after cancer treatment? Walking may help

People who have been treated for cancer often have lingering fatigue, but a new analysis of more than three dozen studies suggests regular walking or cycling might help boost their energy.
Patients' long-lasting tiredness has been blamed both on the cancer itself, including cancer-related pain, and on the effects of treatments such as chemotherapy.
Prior studies point to talk therapy, nutrition counseling and acupuncture as possible ways to ease cancer-related fatigue during or after treatment. But light-to-moderate exercise has the advantage of being something people can do on their own time, for little or no cost.
"We're not expecting people to go out and be running a mile the next day," said Fiona Cramp, who worked on the analysis at the University of the West of England in Bristol.
"Some people will be well enough that they're able to go for a jog or go for a bike ride, and if they can, that's great. But we would encourage people to start with a low level of activity," she told Reuters Health — such as a 20-minute walk a couple of times each day.
Cramp and her colleague James Byron-Daniel pooled findings from 38 studies that directly compared more than 2,600 people with cancer-related fatigue who did or didn't go through an exercise program.
The majority of that research looked at women with breast cancer. The type of exercise program varied, from walking or biking to weight training or yoga. More than half of the studies included multiple exercises or allowed participants to choose their own type of physical activity.
The amount of prescribed exercise ranged from two times per week to daily workouts, lasting anywhere from ten minutes to two hours, depending on the study.
When they combined the results, the researchers found physical activity both during and after cancer treatment was tied to improved energy. In particular, aerobic exercise such as walking and cycling tended to reduce fatigue more than resistance training, they reported this week in the journal The Cochrane Library.
"What we do know is there will be an appreciable difference; the average patient will get a benefit from physical activity," Cramp said. "The actual amount of reduction in fatigue is going to vary according to the individual."
For example, the team saw exercise-related benefits for people with breast cancer and prostate cancer, although not for those with the blood and bone marrow cancers leukemia and lymphoma.
"Some of the hematologic patients may not have the reserves to always tolerate the aerobic exercise," said Carol Enderlin, who has studied fatigue and cancer at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.
"They do not always have the oxygen carrying capacity, for instance," because the disease and treatment affect blood cell counts. For those people, non-aerobic exercise or exercise at a lower dose may be a better option, said Enderlin, who wasn't part of the research team.
Regular moderate exercise is one non-drug therapy recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
Although it might seem intuitive to deal with fatigue by getting lots of rest and avoiding extra activity, that could lead to more loss of muscle mass and fitness, according to Cramp and Byron-Daniel.
One cancer specialist not involved in the new study said that along with reducing fatigue, a combination of moderate exercise and nutrition therapy may help women with breast cancer in particular lower their risk of recurrence. Women being treated for breast cancer tend to gain weight, said Dr. Roanne Segal, from the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada.
"We are now pushing… lifestyle programs which incorporate diet and exercise to get you to either maintain your weight or reduce your weight," she told Reuters Health.
But the most appropriate exercise program, Segal added, will depend on where patients are with their treatment and the details of their particular cancer.
Cramp emphasized that people will have different goals and abilities when it comes to exercise, and that they should discuss those with their doctor. And although most patients will be able to do some kind of physical activity, fragile bones and anemia might hold others back.
"Cancer patients should of course first talk with their doctor to see if it's safe to exercise," Enderlin told Reuters Health. "If it's felt they are safe to exercise, they should maintain a level of at least comfortable activity in order to keep up their endurance, to keep up their strength (and) to promote function."


Baby Talk: Conditions to be aware of in newborns

If your child’s abdomen feels swollen and hard, you should seek medical advice. (Shutterstock)
Updated 16 January 2020

Baby Talk: Conditions to be aware of in newborns

  • Here are three physical conditions that are especially common in the weeks following birth. If you notice any of the following in your baby, contact your doctor or health center straight away

Abdominal Distension

Most babies’ tummies are normally rounded, especially after a large feed. Between feeds, however, they should feel quite soft and not stick out. If your child’s abdomen feels swollen and hard, or if they have not had a bowel movement for more than one or two days, you should seek medical advice. Most likely the problem is due to wind or constipation, but don’t take chances and seek the advice.

Birth Injuries

Labor is can be a strenuous time for both mum and baby, and it is possible for babies to be injured during birth, especially when babies are very large. While newborns recover quickly from some of these injuries, others may last for some time. Quite often the injury is a collar bone, which will heal quickly if the arm on that side is kept relatively still.  Don’t worry if a small lump forms over the site of the fracture. This is just part of the body’s healing process and is a sign that things are normal.

Labor is can be a strenuous time for both mum and baby, and it is possible for babies to be injured during birth, especially when babies are very large. (Shutterstock)

 Muscle weakness in a newborn baby is a common birth injury, caused during labor. However, muscles, usually weakened on one side of the face or one shoulder or arm, generally return to normal after a few weeks.  During this time it might be wise to ask advice on how to hold your baby to promote healing or at least prevent aggravation.

Blue Baby Syndrome

Babies sometimes have mildly blue hands and feet, but this may not be a cause for concern. Their hands and feet might turn slightly blue due to the cold, but they should return to normal as soon as they are warm. Occasionally, the face, tongue, and lips may turn a little blue when the newborn is crying hard, but once he becomes calm, his color in these parts of the body should quickly return to normal. However, persistently blue skin coloring, especially with breathing difficulties and feeding difficulties, is a sign that the heart or lungs are not operating properly, and the baby is not getting enough oxygen in the blood. Immediate medical attention is essential.