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The health benefits of water exercises for cancer patients

If you’re a cancer patient or cancer survivor looking for a low-impact way to get your body moving, water exercises may be the solution. Unlike more strenuous workouts, water aerobics do not strain your muscles or joints.

And as we’ll explain, water has a therapeutic way of refreshing your mind and reduces stress and anxiety. You will be invigorated and have a better sleep.

Physical activity is a piece of the puzzle that helps promote a healthy immune system. Diet and exercise are paramount in boosting your body’s immunity. While you can’t change your DNA, you can control how you fuel your body – with food and workouts.

For starters, water exercises provide a flexible environment for working out; you don’t have to worry about falling and hurting yourself in a pool. The water also reduces the impact exercises have on your joints and muscles.

So, slip on that swimsuit – no Speedos, please! – and let’s dip our toes into the pool to test the waters …

‘Find something called movement’

Cancer patients’ quality of life depends on a myriad of factors, including their overall health. Being physically active is a significant component of QoL. However, cancer patients and survivors often suffer from myofascial pain. This chronic and painful condition affects the connective tissue that covers the muscles.

There are many ways to be physically active, including rebounding, yoga, walking. If you suffer from myofascial pain syndrome, this may involve either a single muscle or a muscle group and not allow you to exert the energy to do those activities. [1]

During the 2017 Cancer Control Society annual meeting, biochemistry researcher Nick Delgado asked, “What is it you’re doing right now to prevent cancer?”

At the root of his question is the immune system – and physical activity plays a significant role.

“Our immune system is the key to being able to fight and overcome this very serious killer disease,” Delgado said. “I am also of the school that we follow a lifestyle that helps us to live healthier and better.

“I don’t believe it will ever be a world free of cancer completely. I think people always smoke. They’ll always abuse their body. They always want to eat meat,” says Delgado, who promotes a plant-based lifestyle.

For cancer patients who cannot put their bodies through running and jumping rigors, water aerobics may be beneficial for a healthier, more physically-active life.

“Start with walking, move up to jogging, move up to running,” Delgado said. “I have athletes. I have people who have not exercised a day in their life, who graduate to various forms [of exercise]; could be water exercise. You have to find something called movement. Move your body.”

The popularity of water exercises

A 2018 study aimed to establish exercise preferences among head and neck cancer survivors found that 33% of those queried were interested in water exercises. [2] Meanwhile, there is mounting scientific evidence that has shown physical exercise improves aerobic fitness, strength, physical activity levels, and quality of life.

Physical exercise, including water aerobics, reduces fatigue in cancer survivors, including breast cancer patients, during and post-treatment. Research also suggests other health benefits from physical activity during and post-cancer treatments. [3]

In 2012, 66 breast cancer survivors were randomly assigned into two groups: the Water group, who received a water exercise program, and the Control group, who received the usual care treatment for breast cancer. The research noted an 8-week water therapy program was useful for improving neck and shoulder/armpit pain and reducing the presence of trichorhinophalangeal (TRPS) in breast cancer survivors as compared with usual care.

TRPS is a gene that appears to help regulate healthy embryonic development and is found at high levels in virtually all forms of breast cancer. [4] Based on 2005 research, the TRPS-1 gene is associated with a rare, inherited genetic disease in which loss of the gene function results in muscle and bone deformities. [5] The gene is located in a region previously known to be associated with breast cancer and other oncogenes.

“Based on our findings, we believe that TRPS-1 is involved in the earliest stages of breast cancer,” says Laszlo Radvanyi, Ph.D., associate professor of breast and melanoma medical oncology at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

TRPS-1 is a DNA-binding protein that regulates how other proteins get produced. It also appears to be involved in recognition of steroids such as estrogen. Radvanyi speculates that the protein may help regulate cell growth and perhaps estrogen recognition.

Benefits of water exercises

Exercise may be associated with increased health-related quality of life in patients with cancer. Still, it is not prescribed as standard care during or after cancer treatment. A systematic review of methodological quality from 16 randomized controlled trials summarized the evidence.

The review determined that exercise has a direct positive impact on patients’ quality of life with cancer, during, and following medical intervention. The types of cancer studied included mixed, breast, lymphoma, colo-rectal, prostate, and lung cancer. The authors also noted exercise is a “clinically relevant treatment and should be an adjunctAnother treatment used together with the primary treatment. Its purpose is to assist the primary treatment. to disease therapy in oncology.” [6]

Furthermore, another study of 72 randomized controlled trials – 71 in adults and 1 in children – determined exercise had a moderate effect on reducing fatigue compared with a control intervention. Exercise also improved depression and sleep. [7]

In 2018, a study was launched to investigate whether patients who suffer from lower limb lymphedema after cancer treatments can benefit from water immersion exercise training to improve functional capacity, quality of life, and help control/diminish limb volume.

Aquatic exercise training programs allow moderate and vigorous-intensity activities for patients with lower limb lymphedema, increasing functional capacity and quality of life. Thus, immersion exercise does not appear to exacerbate lower limb lymphedema. [8]

“If you transition to a healthy lifestyle, you may not need the medications in short order. Your quality of life will improve dramatically,” Delgado said. “We know that exercise is important. We know that your emotional status is important. We know that better sleep is important.

“I can tell you this: If you suffer from allergies, cancer, infection, or inflammation, your white blood cells are the key to your total health and immune system.” (White blood cells are immune system cells that help protect against infectious diseases.) [9-10]

Types of water aerobics

Water aerobics place very little weight on the joints, which means people of all ages and varying levels of fitness can reap the exercises’ benefits. Water places an upward force on a person – buoyancy – and you can experience as much as 90% less weight when in the water. This makes water exercises an ideal activity for a low-impact water workout.

Aqua jogging is a low-impact exercise to get the heart pumping and blood flowing throughout the body. As simple as jogging through the water from one side of the pool to the other, aqua jogging also can be as simple as walking back and forth in the pool or marching in place in the pool.

Capitalizing on the resistance of the water, leg lifts work all of the muscles in your legs. Merely stand in the pool and lift one leg out to the side and back down. Repeat until your leg feels tired, then switch legs. This exercise also improves balance and strengthens your core.

Water push-ups build strength in your arms, chest, and shoulders – and there is not a lot of pressure put on your joints. To do these push-ups, stand along the side of the pool and place your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart on the edge of the pool. Bend your arms and lean in toward the wall, then push yourself back out. Repeat this exercise slowly and until your arms feel tired.

FAQs

Are there health benefits to water exercises?

Among other benefits, water exercises can help improve the health of your heart. The water’s pressure helps in blood circulation, which reduces your blood pressure. This means less strain is on your heart while it is pumping blood. (Water exercises also can burn 500 to 1000 calories per hour!)

What type of exercises can I do in the water?

Among the most popular are jogging from one side of the pool to another, walking back and forth, or even marching in place. The water’s resistance is the key in each of these exercises. Other exercises include leg lifts and push-ups (against the side of the pool).

What should I wear while doing water aerobics?

A bathing suit – and toss on a T-shirt if that makes you more comfortable. Also, invest in a pair of water shoes with rubber soles, foam padding, and good ventilation. (And don’t forget to stretch before getting the pool!)

Should I eat before getting into the pool to exercise?

Yes, you should eat before any workout; food fuels your body! But make sure you’re stocking up  with the right nutrients. Fill your tummy and get a quick burst of energy by eating healthy: a banana, a green smoothie, etc.

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References

  1. Effect of aerobic exercise in the treatment of myofascial pain: a systematic review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6323330/
  2. Exercise Program Design Considerations for Head and Neck Cancer Survivors. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29058083/
  3. An Update of Controlled Physical Activity Trials in Cancer Survivors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20052559/
  4. Effectiveness of Water Physical Therapy on Pain, Pressure Pain Sensitivity, and Myofascial Trigger Points in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trial. https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/13/11/1509/1867459
  5. Gene Found In 90 Percent Of Breast Cancers May Be Cancer Vaccine Target. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/07/050726075800.htm
  6. Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26719503/
  7. Effect of Exercise on Cancer-Related Fatigue: A Meta-Analysis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24743466/
  8. Aquatic Exercise Training Outcomes on Functional Capacity, Quality of Life, and Lower Limb Lymphedema: Pilot Study. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30247973/
  9. The Effects of Acute Low-Volume HIIT and Aerobic Exercise on Leukcyte Count and Redox Status. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6090390/
  10. The components of the immune system.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27092/