Exercise Reduces Neuropathy During Chemo

Researchers at the University of Rochester Wilmot Cancer Institute discovered something simple and inexpensive to reduce neuropathy in hands and feet due to chemotherapy – exercise.

Investigators in the exercise study directly compared the neuropathic symptoms in non-exercisers to the pain among patients who took part in a specialized six-week walking routine with gentle, resistance-band training at home.

The exercisers reported, “Significantly fewer symptoms of neuropathy–which includes shooting or burning pain, tingling, numbness, and sensitivity to cold–and the effects of exercise seemed to be most beneficial for older patients,” said lead author Ian Kleckner, Ph.D., a biophysicist and research assistant professor in Wilmot’s Cancer Control and Survivorship program.

Kleckner, a longtime drug-free body builder and former college rugby player, said he’s committed to understanding more deeply the benefits of exercise for cancer patients. “Exercise is like a sledgehammer because it affects so many biological and psycho-social pathways at the same time–brain circuitry, inflammation, our social interactions–whereas drugs usually have a specific target,” he said. “Our next study is being designed to find out how exercise works, how the body reacts to exercise during cancer treatment, and how exercise affects the brain.”

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.