Exercise is one of the most basic and effective things mesothelioma patients can do to support their treatment, recovery, and quality of life.
Why is exercise important for mesothelioma patients?
Incorporating gentle activity and exercise into a regular routine, even just a few times a week, can have a wide range of benefits for mesothelioma patients, including:
- Reduced fatigue and increased energy
- Increased muscle mass, strength, and endurance
- Improved appetite
- Improved sleep
- Increased effectiveness of cancer treatments
- Reduced risk of treatment side effects (such as peripheral neuropathy, nausea, osteoporosis, and lymphedema).
- Improved balance and coordination
- Improved blood flow and circulation
- Improved immune system functioning.
Research has also shown that regular exercise can lead to lower risk of cancer mortality and recurrence, fewer and less severe side effects, and a higher chance of completing treatment.
Studies specific to mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung disease patients have shown additional benefits, including reduced breathlessness, improved muscular strength, and improved respiratory functioning.
Importantly, exercise can also have significant psychological benefits for mesothelioma patients. Even gentle exercise causes the brain to release endorphins, which can reduce pain and stress levels, as well as norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, which can help improve and stabilize mood and promote overall wellbeing.
What types of exercise are best for mesothelioma patients?
Each mesothelioma patient has different abilities and limitations, which can change at different stages of the disease and different points in treatment. Your mesothelioma care team can help you find the right type of exercise for you.
Overall, mesothelioma patients benefit from gentle, low-impact forms of exercise, such as:
- Restorative/Gentle Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong: These gentle movement exercises can increase flexibility and help with muscle stiffness, which is common after surgery. They can also improve balance, which is often impaired by mesothelioma treatment.
- Walking, Swimming, and Other Light Aerobics: Light aerobics such as walking and swimming have many benefits, including improving endurance, circulation, and muscle strength.
- Light Strength and Resistance Training: Mesothelioma treatment often causes muscle loss. Light strength training with small weights and resistance bands can help build muscles back up and reduce atrophy.
- Gentle Cycling and Elliptical Training: Elliptical and stationary cycling machines can help improve both cardiovascular and respiratory strength and endurance.
It is also very important for mesothelioma patients to avoid over-exerting themselves. While the right type of exercise can have significant health benefits, exercise that is too intense will have the opposite effect. Certain forms of exercise are generally too high-impact and strenuous for mesothelioma patients and should be avoided. These include:
- Hot/Power Yoga
- Intensive Pilates
- High-Impact Cardio
- Heavy Weightlifting
- Boot Camp Programs (i.e., P90X, CrossFit)
Pleural mesothelioma patients in particular should avoid high-intensity cardio, which is unsafe with reduced lung functioning, and should be careful with strength training involving the shoulders, arms, and chest, since the surrounding tissue may be weakened or enflamed by tumors. Peritoneal mesothelioma patients should be similarly careful with strength training of the core muscles (abdomen and pelvis), and when bending or twisting.
How can mesothelioma patients incorporate regular exercise into their lives?
It is generally recommended that mesothelioma patients get 30 minutes of exercise, five days per week. Some patients may initially struggle to exercise that often or for that length of time, as symptoms like breathing difficulties, chest pain, coughing, and fatigue—as well as the side effects of treatments like chemotherapy—often make it hard to stay active.
For those struggling with exercise, the following tips may come in handy:
- Have a routine: One of the best ways to stick to exercising is to have a specific time and place where you do it each day. If you’re having trouble doing the full 30 minutes, you can start your routine as three 10-minute segments throughout the day, working toward a single 30-minute session. Studies have found that while mesothelioma treatment often causes a major decline in patients’ ability to exercise and exert themselves physically, these effects can often be reversed by sticking to a regular, structured exercise routine.
It is often helpful to make an exercise plan that alternates different types of exercise on different days. For example, you could swim on Mondays, do light strength training on Tuesdays, do yoga on Wednesdays, and then go walking on Thursdays. Alternating different forms of exercise on different days will help you stick to your schedule without getting bored and will also give your body time to recover from each form of exercise, reducing the risk of over-exertion.
- Remember that something is better than nothing: If you struggle with more traditional forms of exercise, it’s important to remember that some exercise is better than none. Many of the things we do each day can be considered exercise, even household chores (i.e., washing dishes, folding and putting away laundry, dusting, light gardening, cooking, or taking the dog for a walk with a loved one). Staying engaged with activities and moving your body each day will help maintain your stamina and prevent physical decline.
- Incorporate friends, family, and community: Many mesothelioma patients find it much easier to stick to a regular exercise routine if they aren’t doing it alone. Incorporating family members, friends, and members of your community into your routine can help motivate you to get going each day and will give you additional reasons not to quit. Exercising with others can also improve your mental and emotional health and combat the social isolation common among mesothelioma patients.
- Get help from your mesothelioma care team, a cancer treatment center, or a personal trainer: Professional assistance can be very helpful when building an exercise routine. Your mesothelioma care team will likely have resources and advice on the best routine for your needs, and many cancer centers offer assessments, help with routines, and fitness training at no extra charge. Some mesothelioma patients opt to work with a separate personal trainer. A personal trainer can help you develop a routine and ensure you stick to it with regular appointments and exercise sessions. If possible, patients should try to find a Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer (CET). This accreditation by the American Cancer Society and the American College of Sports Medicine means a trainer has been educated and certified to safely guide cancer patients through specialized exercise routines based on their diagnosis and treatment.
Call Us Today For A Free Mesothelioma Lawsuit Consultation
To reach our office in Louisville, call us at 855-385-9532. Please complete our contact form to schedule a free initial consultation.