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Exercise programme helps cancer patients sleep after chemo

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A six-week exercise programme helped bowel cancer patients get the sleep they needed to recover from gruelling chemo and prepare for surgery, according to a UK study.

Sleep problems are a common side effect of many cancer treatments and tough chemotherapy cycles can leave patients suffering from extreme fatigue.

“This study suggests exercise could hold the key to giving these patients the rest they need”

Sandy Jack

The study looked at the sleep quality of 33 rectal cancer patients and compared results for those who did a six-week exercise programme with those who received standard care.

The exercise regime was based on an innovative “prehabilitation” programme, developed at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, which aims to boost cancer patients’ recovery after chemotherapy but before surgery.

The exercise training consisted of 40 minutes of interval training on an exercise bike, alternating from moderate to severe intensities.

Previous research by the centre’s critical care team found tailored exercise programmes for bowel cancer patients after chemo and radiotherapy helped them return to pre-treatment fitness levels within six weeks – and later meant they spent less time in hospital after surgery.

This latest study, published in the journal Preoperative Medicine, saw participants wear a device to monitor their sleep and activity from just before starting chemotherapy and radiotherapy up to six weeks after treatment finished.

exercise health fitness fit4

Researchers found quality of sleep, amount of sleep and amount of time spent lying down were better among those who had done the “prehabilitation” programme.

“Chemotherapy can be extremely tough physically, leaving patients feeling tired and worn out which affects the quality of their sleep – creating a vicious cycle of exhaustion,” said project lead Sandy Jack, a consultant clinician scientist at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and associate professor at the University of Southampton.

“This study suggests exercise could hold the key to giving these patients the rest they need to get their strength back and better prepare them for surgery,” she said.

The study formed part of the Fit-4-Surgery project at the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, which involves testing a range of exercise programmes to improve outcomes for patients.

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