Exercise Fights Fatigue of Radiation Therapy

Moderate Walking Better Than Taking It Easy

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 4, 2004 -- To fight fatigue during radiation therapy, exercise is the best remedy, according a new study on men with prostate cancer.

Fatigue during cancer treatment is a common problem. Among the causes: stress, depression, anemia, pain, sleep problems, and poor nutrition, writes researcher Phyllis M. Windsor, MSc, MD, with the radiation therapy and oncology department at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School in Dundee, Scotland.

One survey in the U.K. shows that only 14% of cancer patients receive advice for fighting fatigue. The most common: rest and relaxation, writes Windsor. Only 4% of patients had been advised to exercise.

Inactivity may actually increase fatigue, she writes. Aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling, or swimming may be more beneficial in fighting fatigue and preventing further weakness. However, few studies have really looked at this issue.

Windsor's study appears in the latest issue of the journal Cancer. It involves 66 men, all about 68 years old, all getting radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Half just took things easy. The other half were asked to walk for 30 minutes -- three days a week -- for the four-week study period. They were told to exercise at a moderate intensity -- 60% to 70% of maximum heart rate. Maximum heart rate is calculated as 220 minus your age. For example, a 60-year-old man should exercise so that his heart rate is between 96 and 112 beats per minute.

Before and after the four-week radiation therapy treatment, men in both groups took a "fatigue test" that involved walking a short distance.

The rest group showed significantly more fatigue after radiation therapy: They were unable to walk much. The exercise group did much better. In fact, those men were walking longer distances than before.

"Moderate-intensity walking produced a significant improvement in physical functioning" with no increase in fatigue, writes Windsor. Improved physical functioning may be helpful to combat fatigue during radiation therapy.

SOURCE: Windsor, P. Cancer, Aug. 1, 2004; vol 101: pp 550-557.

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