Strength training speeds up cancer patients’ recovery

Doctors are saving the lives of more and more cancer patients, but chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery all have heavy side effects. Patients who have undergone treatment usually need years to make a full recovery. Strength training can help speed up recovery, researchers at Maxima Medical Centre in Veldhoven, the Netherlands, discovered.

Ingrid de Backer published the results of a study in 2008 in the British Journal of Cancer, and the study received a prize for the best study on exercise and cancer rehabilitation. Indeed, De Backer’s results are interesting for all cancer survivors.

De Backer carried out her experiment with 49 subjects, all of whom had just undergone cancer therapy. It was a diverse group, but the biggest subgroup was of women who had had breast cancer.

De Backer got the patients to do intensive weight training twice a week. They performed vertical-row, leg-press, bench-press, pull-over, crunch and lunge exercises.

During the first 12 weeks the subjects did 2 sets of 10 reps of each exercise. During the last training period the focus shifted to increasing the number of repetitions – more than 20 reps per set – but not increasing the weight.

Before and after the strength training lasted the subjects did a short interval training on an exercise bike.

The training programme lasted 18 weeks. The subjects in the experimental group had a consultation with a sports doctor, who gave each subject a personal exercise programme. “These personalised advices were based on the patient’s individual interests and motivation”, the researchers write.

A control group of 22 cancer patients did no training.

The researchers measured the subjects’ muscle strength before the programme started, immediately after completion and a year later. The figure below shows that the patients retained the muscle strength that they had gained.


The figure below indicates that the strength training helped reduce fatigue and improve quality of life. The effects were not dramatic, but they were statistically significant. If you click on the figure a larger version will appear. This shows that the positive effects of the strength training were still present a year later.


“Based on these results, we suggest that guidelines for rehabilitation in oncology patients should include high-intensity resistance training”, the researchers conclude in their article.

Long-term follow-up after cancer rehabilitation using high-intensity resistance training: persistent improvement of physical performance and quality of life


The short-term beneficial effects of physical rehabilitation programmes after cancer treatment have been described. However, little is known regarding the long-term effects. The purpose of this study was to investigate the long-term effects of high-intensity resistance training compared with traditional recovery. A total of 68 cancer survivors who completed an 18-week resistance training programme were followed for 1 year. During the 1-year follow-up, 19 patients dropped out (14 due to recurrence of cancer). The remaining 49 patients of the intervention group were compared with a group of 22 patients treated with chemotherapy in the same period but not participating in any rehabilitation programme. Outcome measures were muscle strength, cardiopulmonary function, fatigue, and health-related quality of life. One year after completion of the rehabilitation programme, the outcome measures in the intervention group were still at the same level as immediately after rehabilitation. Muscle strength at 1 year was significantly higher in patients who completed the resistance training programme than in the comparison group. High-intensity resistance training has persistent effects on muscle strength, cardiopulmonary function, quality of life, and fatigue. Rehabilitation programmes for patients treated with chemotherapy with a curative intention should include high-intensity resistance training in their programme.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2453017/?report=abstract

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