"How to increase physical activity in children with cancer."

With advanced treatment options and a holistic approach, childhood cancer is largely curable. However, it has been seen that about two-thirds of children who successfully fight cancer suffer from at least one physical or psychological after-effect of cancer treatment. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4257474/). It has also been seen that survivors are more vulnerable to diseases like diabetes, blood pressure, heart diseases, osteoporosis; diseases that can all be prevented through adequate physical activity.  

However in reality, after diagnosis, parents of young kids become so incredibly anxious about their child’s treatment and food intake that they often neglect physical activities and playdates. 

How does physical activity help?

Along with eating nutritious food, being physically active is also equally important. Physical activities promote healthy growth and development of the body. It improves a child’s motor skills by helping in coordination, balance, posture and flexibility. Being physically active can do wonders to a child’s mood, self-confidence and even help them sleep better.  

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) therefore recommends that children below the age of 18 years should indulge in moderate to vigorous exercise like running, walking briskly or cycling for  60 minutes a day for at least 5 days a week.

Physical activity is particularly important in childhood cancer patients and survivors as it improves cardiovascular fitness, physical fitness, muscle strength, fatigue and mental health. It also helps improve their quality of life.

Even though we know so much about how physical activity can benefit a child with cancer, almost all published data indicates that less than 50% of childhood cancer survivors meet the physical activity guidelines. Hence, it is important to make sure that physical activity and exercise is part of your child’s everyday routine.

Here are a few tips that can help improve your child’s physical activity:

Encourage your child to move and do more!

A great way to promote physical activity is by enabling your child to be more independent. Encourage your child to clean up his room, wash his own used dishes, serve food for himself and if interested, he could also help you in other household chores. You can also encourage him to go out with friends and play outdoor games. Let your child be active more often!

Aim to have a daily routine

Including exercise into your child’s daily routine will ensure that he/she gets regular physical activity. Planning a daily routine can be a game-changer if your child enjoys and prefers doing them. It can either be indoors or outdoors, whichever they like – but the key is consistency. A quick 10-minute brisk walk after waking up every morning can set the mood for the day.

Go easy

Rome wasn’t built in a day. To be fit and healthy, we have to ensure that we start slow and build from there. It takes time for a child to resume full activity right after treatment. 

Let your child choose his favourite activity. You can let him start with warm-ups for a few days and then step it up as per their ability. Even getting him to tap his toes and move his body to an energetic Bollywood number can count as physical activity.

Keep it Fun! 

Although you and I know that these activities are vital to keep them healthy during and after treatment, they don’t need to focus on that aspect all the time. For children, going out and playing should be fun! You can also get involved with them while playing – It will help improve your bond with your child and also help them de-stress and cope with the difficulties they’ve been facing. You can plan these activities to be creative, fun, competitive and rewarding, which may further draw your child’s interest. You can also entice your child with a favourite healthy snack at the end of the physical activity session, especially if your child needs a little push to increase his/her physical activity levels.

Regular exercise should be a priority for every child during and after treatment. Along with proper nutrition, you should also make sure that your child has all the time he/she needs to do regular exercise and physical activities. 

Written By:
Neha Mistry,
Paediatric Oncology Nutritionist
Cuddles Foundation, Mumbai.

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