Exercise Can Beat Depression in Cancer Patients

Many of us have likely made a New Year’s resolution or pre-summer pledge at one time to hit the gym, running trails or swimming pool more often — plans that often fall by the wayside to work and school schedules or family obligations. But fulfilling that promise can be a life-altering decision, especially for people facing a cancer diagnosis.

New research has found that exercise can provide help for cancer patients who are struggling with depression and anxiety. While much of the interventions that exist for patients focus on physical ailments, exercise targets patients’ mental health — with impressive results.

What can exercise do?

According to researchers at Edith Cowan University in Australia, just 2.5 hours of physical exercise a week can greatly reduce a cancer patient’s depression and anxiety.

The university’s recent study looked at 32 cancer patients suffering from depression, a common affliction after a cancer diagnosis. Some of the participants worked out at home, others used a gym and the third group didn’t exercise at all. The last group saw no improvement, and in some cases a worsening, of their depression, but all of the patients who exercised reported a positive effect.
The type of exercise didn’t seem to have much of an effect, the researchers found. Any moderate exercise, even walking the dog, was a help for cancer patients — an important finding, as some patients may be scared away from the idea of exercise, which they may equate with running on a treadmill or lifting heavy weights.

“All types of exercise showed a benefit in terms of mental health,” Dr. Greg Levin told the Australian Broadcast Corporation.

What now?

The Australian researchers plan to use their study to create a helpful guide that doctors can use in working with cancer patients dealing with depression.

The research also suggested that continued investigation could help shine more light on the issue. For instance, the study participants who exercised at home reported improvements in their depressive symptoms at higher rates and more quickly than those who worked out at a gym. That could suggest that the comforts of home can be a help for cancer patients who are getting active, which can be an important tool in creating exercise regimes for patients.

As researcher Dr. Ian Olver noted, exercise is a simple addition to one’s daily routine, but one that can make a world of difference.

“We are not talking about drug therapy here. We are talking about just changing your lifestyle.”

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