Combat “Chemo Brain”

In honor of the beginning of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d like to highlight  how to combat “Chemo Brain” today.

If you or a loved one has suffered through breast cancer, you may have heard of “Chemo Brain.”  This is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment.  After chemo, people commonly feel foggy and cognitive abilities can suffer.

A 2015 study suggests that aerobic exercise can fight the effects of “Chemo Brain.”  The study included 20 women who were on average 53 years old, had been treated for breast cancer within the past three years and had reported cognitive difficulties.  The researchers instructed half of the participants to exercise for six months, while the other half didn’t exercise and served as controls for the study.

“The results showed that compared to the control group, the women who exercised had improvements in several parts of the psychological tests, including verbal fluency, visual attention and switching between tasks. They also reported better quality of life and improvements in their thinking and memory,” according to the study that was presented at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology.

Additionally, aerobic exercise can combat fatigue in cancer patients and survivors while increasing quality of life.

The American Cancer Society explains how exercise can help during and after cancer treatment:

  • Keep or improve your physical abilities (how well you can use your body to do things)
  • Improve balance, lower risk of falls and broken bones
  • Keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity
  • Lower the risk of heart disease
  • Lessen the risk of osteoporosis (weak bones that are more likely to break)
  • Improve blood flow to your legs and lower the risk of blood clots
  • Make you less dependent on others for help with normal activities of daily living
  • Improve your self-esteem
  • Lower the risk of being anxious and depressed
  • Lessen nausea
  • Improve your ability to keep social contacts
  • Lessen symptoms of tiredness (fatigue)
  • Help you control your weight
  • Improve your quality of life

A growing number of studies have looked at the impact of physical activity on cancer recurrence and long-term survival. Exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, body composition, fatigue, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, happiness and several quality of life factors in cancer survivors.  According to the American Cancer Society’s website, “At least 20 studies of people with breast, colorectal, prostate and ovarian cancer have suggested that physically active cancer survivors have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival compared with those who are inactive.”

If you have been affected by cancer, it is critical that you maintain physical activity.  In the short-term, exercise may be the last thing on your mind and you may feel that you are too tired to begin a fitness program.  In the long-term, if you battle through the fatigue, you will gain energy, achieve better self-image and regain your cognitive abilities.

Do you need help taking the first step? Whether you are looking for a fitness for seniors program or to improve your bone and joint health, Fitness for Health’s one-on-one, exercise programs can help strengthen your body and your mind. Visit www.FitnessForHealth.org for more information.