High-Intensity Strength Training for Cancer Patients & Survivors: Improving Quality of Life

High-Intensity Strength Training for Cancer Patients & Survivors: Improving Quality of Life

Featured image of Don, a cancer survivor who doubled his strength with The Perfect Workout post radiation treatment

Cancer is unfortunately too common. Around two million new cases are diagnosed in the United States every year. Around 5-6% of the people in the US have cancer. Cancer survival rates vary greatly, ranging from about 7-95%.

Reaching “survivor” status usually requires one or more types of treatments, which are typically physically and emotionally draining.

Considering that there are over 100 types of cancer which affect different areas of the body, there isn’t one cause or one universal answer for preventing cancer. However, there are many lifestyle factors which are preventative for some cancers.

Is strength training one of them? For those with cancer who are enduring treatment, can strength training help these individuals? Keep reading!

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Strength Training for Cancer Prevention
Strength Training for Cancer Patients

Image of a trainer teaching a man to us the abduction machine

Strength Training for Cancer Prevention

Does regular strength training reduce the risk of developing cancer? The answer is complex. The risk of developing some cancers is unaffected by healthy lifestyle habits. For the other types, there aren’t many long-term studies assessing the risk of cancer development in those who strength train. The limited research suggests that strength training helps prevent some cancers:

  • Bladder and kidney cancer. A study of over 33,000 men showed that weekly strength training led to a reduced risk of developing bladder and kidney cancer (Rezende et al., 2020).
  • Colon cancer. Participating in strength training, even if it’s not consistent, was linked with a lesser likelihood of developing colon cancer (Boyle et al., 2012).
  • Overall cancer risk for older adults. This study showed that weaker older adults are more likely to develop cancer (de Asteasu et al., 2022). In this study, older adults in this study were much more likely to develop cancer risk when having less grip strength.

Read About How The Perfect Workout Helped Susan Recover From Cancer

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Strength Training for Cancer Patients

Thankfully, strength training offers additional help for those who are battling cancer. In the long term, strength training increases the chances of cancer survival.

A study from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed that regular strength training was linked with a 33% reduced risk of death over seven years for cancer survivors of various ages (Christensen, Spry, & Galvao, 2014). Strength training helps rebuild people after treatment. Among the benefits, post-treatment training helps rebuild muscle mass and strength, improve self-esteem, boost overall mood, increase energy levels, and develop a better quality of life (Cheema et al., 2007).

For those who are currently in cancer treatment, there are a few benefits. Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, lead to a number of severe side effects: undesired weight loss, lost functional ability, nausea, fatigue, strength loss, and muscle atrophy. Strength training 2-3 times per week assists people through treatment in the following ways (Strasser et al., 2013):

  • Less overall fatigue.
  • Less muscle lost/regained muscle.
  • Added upper and lower body strength.

Read About How 81 Year Old Cancer Survivor Is Staying Strong At The Perfect Workout

For those who are currently participating in treatment for cancer, seek your physician’s approval before participating. There isn’t one universal approach to strength training during cancer treatment.

Aim to keep the workouts short, gradually building intensity and adding exercises as your body successfully tolerates the previous amount. Training all major muscle groups is important, with the lower body being especially important for helping people perform their basic daily living functions (walking, standing from a chair, climbing stairs, etc.). When choosing training days, avoid days where the impacts of treatment are most severe.

Quote from cancer survive Don Marra

Takeaways

Cancer is an umbrella term for over 100 diseases. As a whole, it’s one of the most common chronic diseases in both the US and the world.

The habit of strength training and having more strength are both shown to reduce the risk of developing some cancers. For those who develop cancer, strength training helps reduce the side effects of cancer treatments and improves quality of life. Once reaching survivor status, strength training increases longevity and quality of life.

For those who want to strength train during cancer treatment, start with very few exercises and a low intensity. Leg exercises (leg press, leg curl, squats, etc.) are especially critical for their role in supporting daily activities. Train on days when treatment side effects are less severe.

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We know strength training is important, but nutrition is also a huge piece of your wellbeing. If you'd like help learning how to implement these new habits alongside your glute workouts, schedule a Nutrition Intro session today! Email [email protected] to get started.

  • Boyle, T., Bull, F., Fritschi, L., & Heyworth, J. (2012). Resistance training and the risk of colon and rectal cancers. Cancer Causes & Control, 23(7), 1091-1097.
  • Cheema, B., Gaul, C.A., Lane, K., & Fiatarone Singh, M.A. (2007). Progressive resistance training in breast cancer: a systematic review of clinical trials. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 109, 9-26.
  • Christensen, J. F., Spry, N. A., & Galvão, D. A. (2014, January). Resistance Training and Cancer Survival. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings (Vol. 89, No. 10, p. 1465). Elsevier.
  • de Asteasu, M. L. S., Steffens, T., Ramirez-Velez, R., Cadore, E. L., Izquierdo, M., & Pietta-Dias, C. (2022). Low handgrip strength is associated with higher cancer prevalence in frail nonagenarians and centenarians. Experimental Gerontology, 111862.
  • Rezende, L. F., Lee, D. H., Keum, N., Wu, K., Eluf-Neto, J., Tabung, F. K., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2020). Resistance training and total and site-specific cancer risk: a prospective cohort study of 33,787 US men. British Journal of Cancer, 123(4), 666-672.
  • Strasser, B., Steindorf, K., Wiskemann, J., & Ulrich, C.M. (2013). Impact of resistance training in cancer survivors. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 45(11), 2080-2090.