Physical activity and lung cancer

October 20, 2014 Kathy Witmer, DNP, ARNP

Can physical activity help treat or prevent lung cancer? According to a 2007 study presented at the American Association for Cancer Researcher’s 6th Annual International Conference on Cancer Prevention, the answer is yes! 
Physical activity is linked with a lower risk of developing lung cancer. The benefits of physical activity extended to men, women, current smokers, former smokers and never smokers. The activities did not require hours a day or an expensive gym membership. Even gardening twice a week reduced the risk of developing lung cancer.

A growing body of research shows that it is safe for patients with lung cancer to exercise before, during and after treatment. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs have demonstrated favorable results in patients with lung cancer before and after thoracic surgery and after completing treatment  (additional studies here, here, here, and here). Increases in physical activity are associated with improved quality of life and decreased symptoms in lung cancer patients. Physical activity can help survivors build muscle strength, increase flexibility and endurance, and improve their capacity to perform activities of daily living. Physical activity can reduce fatigue and improve physical function, musculoskeletal symptoms, and mental health. Smoking abstinence, regular activity and regular cancer screenings might also improve outcomes in lung cancer survivors.
Recommendations for physical activity for cancer prevention and cancer survival have been developed by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer research, The American Cancer Society and the American College of Sports Medicine.  These recommendations include aerobic exercising at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week at a moderate intensity (where you break a sweat but you can still carry on a conversation) and weight training twice a week. Both aerobic and strength-training exercises encourage muscular strength and condition the lungs. 
If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, consult your physician before starting a physical activity program. If your doctor prescribes physical activity as part of your therapy, consult with a certified trainer or coach. Because aerobic activity promotes increased blood flow and forces the lungs to work harder, your trainer will be able to monitor your strength and progress as well as set a safe pace for your workouts.
Physical activity for lung cancer survivors should also be tailored to the individual based on age, baseline fitness levels and exercise experience. Too many of us fail in our intentions to be physically active because we set our goals too high.  Exercise can be harder for those dealing with the fatigue associated with cancer.  Some simple ways to add physical activity to your day may include gardening, dancing to the radio, or signing up for a yoga class.  The breathing techniques used in yoga can help bolster lung function.  Purchase a pedometer and set a goal for a certain number of steps daily (5000 steps = 30 minutes of aerobic activity).  Take the stairs instead of the elevator or park farther away from the front door.

Cancer rehabilitation is available at Swedish under the direction of David Zucker, MD.

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