As National Cancer Survivors Day was in June, Palmer physical therapist Anne Thomas finds this annual celebration of life as the ideal opportunity to point out the ways research has shown that movement and exercise can improve the health and quality of life of those who suffer from and have survived cancer.

According to American Cancer Society, multiple studies have shown that regular physical therapy and exercise can have profound effects on those battling cancer, both physically and mentally – even to the extent of improving survival rates and lowering the risk of cancer recurrence.

“Physical therapy and exercise can no doubt play critical roles in improving a person’s quality of life both during and after cancer diagnosis and treatment,” said Thomas, owner of Body in Balance Physical Therapy in Palmer. “Along with helping cancer patients maintain strength, reduce fatigue, minimize pain, and maximize function and mobility, physical therapists play a critical role in identifying possible complications during and after cancer treatments.”

Working closely with a cancer patient’s primary physician and/or oncologist, a physical therapist works to establish an exercise regimen that takes into account the type of cancer, it’s treatment (i.e., chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, etc.), and limitations that go along with such factors. The goal of such therapy is to maintain strength and stamina throughout treatments, reduce nausea, and maintain a level of safety and independence in patients’ everyday lives.

Exercise also improves self-esteem and reduces anxiety and depression in cancer patients.

“Beyond the physical benefits, physical therapy is a great way for people to feel in control of restoring their bodies during and after cancer treatment through exercise and good health practices,” Thomas said.

Following successful cancer treatments, the importance of physical therapy and exercise doesn’t diminish. In fact, Thomas says, it remains an important aspect of life after cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, at least 20 studies have suggested that physically active cancer survivors – specifically, survivors of breast, colorectal, prostate and ovarian cancers – have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival rates. This is when compared to those cancer survivors who remain inactive.

“Beating cancer doesn’t end when you go into remission,” said Thomas. “Making physical activity a regular part of your life, including both cardiovascular and strength exercise, remains an essential part of both recovery and prevention. No matter who you are, regular physical activity is always a solid option for overall health and happiness.”

Both during and following cancer treatments, physical therapists like those on the Body in Balance Physical Therapy team can work with cancer survivors (and their physicians) to establish exercise programs that maintain long-term strength, cardio fitness, and overall functionality.