It has been known for some time that exercise is important for cancer patients, but few studies have looked at the practicality of exercise programs and whether even a minimal workout can help. Exercise can reduce cancer-related fatigue, improve sleep, boost a sense of wellness, and reduce the recurrence of certain types of tumors. A Mayo Clinic study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that a brief, at-home exercise program -- dubbed the Rapid, Easy, Strength Training program, or REST, -- was sufficient to increase cancer patients' mobility and reduce fatigue.
"We talk a lot about how important it is for cancer patients to exercise, but until now, nobody has questioned whether less may be more for patients negotiating the demands of cancer treatment," says lead author Andrea Cheville, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. "This was the first trial to investigate what's feasible and helpful for patients with limited time and energy."
An interdisciplinary team of Mayo Clinic researchers developed an at-home exercise regimen, involving a pedometer-based walking program and a series of gentle resistance movements -- lifts and curls using a resistance band — that can be done standing or seated. The workout takes only a few minutes a day, with minimal cost to patients.
In a randomized, controlled study of 66 adults with stage IV lung or colorectal cancer, researchers found that patients who exercised at least four times a week for two months showed improved mobility, had less fatigue and slept better when compared with those who didn't exercise. Though other measures such as pain were unaffected, the study suggests that the exercises can address several important disabling effects of disease and that even patients with late-stage cancer are able to perform the brief regimens.
The exercise program and study have significant implications for cancer care, Dr. Cheville says. Other studies have suggested that cancer-related exercise programs may impose financial burdens; patients can learn the REST regimen in a single physical therapy session. A muscle-building exercise regimen may help patients at all stages of cancer treatment.
"Muscles may atrophy during cancer care," Dr. Cheville adds. "Our regimen preserves muscle mass so that if patients develop complications from cancer or treatment, or require hospitalization, they have the reserves necessary to ensure that their bodies heal."