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Let's get physical!
Published on 04 February 2017 by Clare Lait, updated on 02 May 2017
World Cancer Day on the 4th February 2017 is a day that is held internationally to encourage a greater awareness of cancer and how it can be prevented, detected and treated. Its primary aim is to “significantly reduce illness and death caused by cancer by 2020”.
But what if you have been lucky enough to win the fight and are still in pain, tired and uncomfortable from the treatment and recovery?
In light of emerging evidence that physical activity can both prevent cancer and facilitate recovery through treatment, as well prevent re-occurrence and improve survival rates, I thought what better way to celebrate the day than to highlight the importance of physical activity in the context of cancer.
As a physiotherapist who works in this field I spend 90% of my week educating people about the importance of physical activity for those diagnosed with cancer and those recovering. For the general population only 21% are active (shocking!) according to the guidelines and many of those I teach, including health care professionals, do not match the criteria for meeting healthy lifestyles. There are currently 2.8 million survivors of cancer in the UK and 1.6 million are inactive according to research. With evidence that it can improve the many complaints such as fatigue, pain, anxiety and depression in this population group, as well as lengthen time of survival why are more people not doing it?
In my day to day clinics I meet many people who tell me they know they need to be active but often they don’t know how. This is backed by reports which say there are many barriers to either initiating, re-initiating or maintaining physical activity following a cancer diagnosis. People often report pain or fatigue, both symptoms proven to be helped by physical activity itself! Treatments leave people weakened, lacking in confidence and with poor balance. Motivation to be active diminishes and coupled with people’s selfless behavior the desire to be active reduces further. It is suggested that if a trusted health care professional brings up the topic of physical activity during every contact, then uptake increases significantly. However, only 9%-21% of health care professionals actually do. Health care professionals and society both historically, and even currently, often see cancer as a reason to rest and perceive physical activity as unsafe. This is not the case!
The evidence supports the notion that physical activity for people diagnosed with cancer and recovering from cancer is safe and on all accounts should be encouraged for all! Macmillan use the communication model 'Ask, Advice and Act'. Ask about physical activity, are they being active? how do they feel about it? are there any barriers? Advice, provide evidence around the benefits physically and emotionally for individuals and Act, direct people to the growing number of tools and resources that are available to support people where possible to be as active as they can be. We all, health care professionals and the general public alike, have a duty to highlight the importance of physical activity for people diagnosed with cancer and those around them in the quest to prevent and treat and enable people to be the best that they can physically and emotionally. So if you are in recovery, have been diagnosed and are going through treatment or know someone who is, make sure you encourage them where possible to perhaps take a walk at least, avoid inactivity and seek the help and support of a trained exercise specialist, we're here to help.
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