Study: Cancer Survivors Gain Strength with Strength Training

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Among the many side effects of cancer treatment, muscle loss is one that can make daily tasks such as lifting groceries and running errands become challenging. Dumbbell-SP005620_7_300w

Now an analysis of the research suggests that survivors who lift weights and do other resistance exercises improve both arm and leg muscles. And for the strongest arms, resistance training at a low to moderate intensity works the best.

The review was published last week in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

The new study looking only at randomized controlled trials — considered the gold standard of studies — included studies on resistance training among cancer patients and survivors. The researchers ended up with 11 relevant studies that included almost 1200 people. Each comparing a resistance training  group against a comparison. The majority of studies worked with breast and prostate patients and survivors.

Participants had conducted resistance training exercises from 3 months up to a year. Most involved two training sessions a week.

When the researchers looked at all the studies together, they found survivors who had lifted weights and done other resistance training had gained plenty of muscle strength in both their arms and legs, compared to the non-resistance training groups. The exercisers could lift another 32 pounds in their legs and 15 pounds in their arms.

The strongest gains in arm muscles were found when the survivors lifted weights at low intensity. This suggests that lifting a lower-weight dumbbell for more repetitions may be more effective than a heavier dumbbell for shorter reps.

“This result would be important news for cancer patients who may be unable to sustain lifting weights at a relative high intensity due to sarcopenic comorbidities, such as connective tissue complications,” said the study’s lead author Barbara Strasser, University for Health Sciences, Medical Informatics and Technology in Austria.

“The training load should be adapted to keep the maximum possible repetition per set between 15 to 20, without interruption until fatigue,” said Strasser.

At the end of the interventions, the resistance exercisers also had slightly less body fat compared to those not in the training groups.

While researchers are still figuring out the best exercise program for cancer survivors, researchers have found that activity offers many health benefits for survivors, both during and after treatment. All the patients and survivors in these studies had their training programs supervised. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people undergoing cancer treatment check with their doctor before starting an exercise program.


Author: Mya Nelson

Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

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