For many cancer patients, treatment can leave both physical and psychological effects on their daily lives. A strong and ever-growing body of research suggests that physical activity may help them cope more easily.
A January 2012 analysis looked at the effects of exercise on cancer patients after treatment. Among the 34 randomized controlled studies in the analysis, almost two-thirds focused on breast cancer and the rest looked at different types, including colon and lung. Overall, the authors found that the patients who participated in exercise programs lasting a median of 13 weeks had improved physical functions, quality of life, fitness and body weight.
This study builds on a similar analysis completed last year, which suggested exercise helps survivors in numerous ways. In a 2010 report, experts brought together by the American College of Sports Medicine recommended that cancer patients and survivors "avoid inactivity."
One award-winning chef found the wellspring of her recovery from colon cancer by doing several kinds of physical activity. Sarah Lanzman says she feels better now than before she was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer several years ago.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, a city known for fine restaurants, Sarah ran a catering business using her own garden vegetables. She sold the catering business the year before she was diagnosed. At that point, she remembers, "I had lower back pain and I was overweight. During the cancer treatment, I went down to 96 pounds – but I returned to a weight that is 33 pounds less than I weighed before the cancer. It seems to be my natural weight."
The key was physical activity: Sarah started going to a gym to lift weights with a group supervised by a professional trainer three times a week. She also began to swim and take walks. She discovered Nia, a type of movement that combines yoga, dance and Chinese tai chi.
These days, her daughter, Sage, who lives close by and is an aerialist in a troupe called The Ecstatic Circus, inspires her to enjoy moving.
Sarah says, "I have so much more energy than I used to. And I'm going to need it for my next project!"
Her plan is to open a health-conscious bed and breakfast where cancer patients recuperating from treatment can come to recover. Now Sarah wants to serve healthy, mostly plant-based dishes to people interested in eating for good health and lower cancer risk.