BY CATHERINE NGUYEN
Walking is one of the easiest and most enjoyable forms of exercise. It costs nothing but can help you physically and mentally during your cancer journey.
According to two studies presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference in Chicago, brisk walking may help to slow down cancer and reduce the risk of dying from it, even in more advanced stages of the disease. Just 25 minutes a day of brisk walking is enough to make a difference.
Another study led by American Cancer Society researchers of almost 140,000 participants, found that all levels of walking are linked with lower mortality risk. Even participants who walked for less than 2 hours per week had a lower death risk than those who did not walk. Those who did up to twice the recommended exercise target just through walking had a 20% lower mortality risk.
The Physical Benefits
Walking can improve your overall fitness and has many physical benefits.
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that those who walk regularly showed significant improvements in blood pressure, slowing of resting heart rate, decrease in body fat and body weight, and reduced cholesterol.
Walking also helps to increase your energy levels which is particularly helpful when you are fighting cancer. A study found that previously inactive adults reported feeling more energetic and less tired after just 20 minutes of low to moderate exercise, including walking, for 3 days a week over a 6 week period.
Cancer treatments or the cancer itself can weaken your immune system. Walking can lessen this impact by increasing white blood cells which fight infection and other diseases as part of the body’s immune system. A study published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s journal found an increase in white blood cells in adults immediately after just a 30 minute walk.
There is also evidence that walking helps to ease the pain for patients who are hospitalised with chronic pain. Walking warms up your muscles and makes it easier to move.
The Mental Benefits
Walking can also help mentally during the cancer journey.
In a pilot study of patients with recurrent or metastatic cancer, 42 people were randomized equally between a walking group and those receiving standard care. Participants in the walking group reported improved psychological and emotional well-being after completing the pilot. They said that walking helped them maintain a positive attitude towards cancer, and they also enjoyed the social benefits of being part of a walking group.
Another study across 3 experiments shows that walking can improve moods overall and override the effects of other emotionally relevant events such as boredom and dread.
Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression also suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout. They believe that a brisk walk can work quickly to ease depressed moods, similar to taking an aspirin for a headache.
Furthermore, walking has also been shown to improve memory and slow the deterioration of brain tissue.
Make it fun
If you find it difficult to walk alone, invite a friend or neighbour to join you.
If you prefer to be alone, you can listen to music while you walk or simply enjoy the fresh air and scenery.
It doesn’t take much to reap the benefits. “If you already have a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps per day, you’re probably already hitting the minimum exercise targets”, says Professor Timothy Olds, from the Health Sciences School of the University of South Australia.
Catherine has been volunteering with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since 2017, and joined Solaris Cancer Care as a blog writer in early August 2020. She lost both her father and her husband to cancer, and the experiences changed her life. Catherine developed a passion for researching all matters relating to cancer during her husband’s fight, and is keen to continue building on her knowledge and using it to help others.