Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy often have reduced red and white blood cell counts due to bone marrow suppression. Both red and white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow before being released into the blood through a process called hematopoiesis. Decreases in red blood cells can lead to increased fatigue, while decreases in white blood cells can lead to infections.

Exercise has shown a positive effect on both red and white blood cells, although most research is performed on healthy individuals performing aerobic exercise. While the exact mechanism is unknown, it’s possible that resistance exercise stimulates osteoblasts in the bone, which then facilitates hematopoiesis.

Several studies have been published on the effectiveness of TheraBand resistance bands in cancer survivors. Researchers conducted a pilot study to examine the effects of elastic resistance band training on red and white blood cell counts in lung cancer survivors undergoing chemotherapy.  The study design consisted of an exercise group and usual care group.

The exercise program was performed over 12 weeks, 3 times per week with one weekly supervised session and 2 weekly sessions at home. The 30 minute routine consisted of warm-up stretches and 12 total-body resistance exercise for major muscle groups for 2 sets of 15 repetitions. All exercises were chair-based and performed at a resistance that created fatigue at the end of the 2nd set of repetitions. Download the exercise protocol handout here. The elastic band exercises included:

  • Biceps Curlolder female band sitting elbow curl
  • Shoulder Pull-back
  • Seated Row
  • Triceps Extension
  • Chest Press
  • Leg Extension
  • Hip Flexion
  • Hip Abduction
  • Hip Adduction
  • Heel Raises
  • Chair squats

Although 23 patients were initially recruited and randomized for the study, the final analysis was performed on only 14 patients due to drop-outs of various reasons. It should be noted, however, that a statistical power analysis indicated that only 12 subjects were needed to find a large (0.8) effect.

The researchers found that those performing the elastic resistance exercises were able to maintain their white blood cell counts over the 12 weeks, while the usual care group experienced a significant drop in their white blood cell counts. Interestingly, however, there was no difference between the groups in red blood cell counts.

This finding with resistance training is not consistent with studies examining effects of aerobic exercise, which often find improvements in red blood cell counts in cancer survivors. Because of the role of red blood cells in transporting oxygen, aerobic exercise may be more beneficial to increase red blood cell counts.

The authors suggested that an exercise program with elastic resistance bands may be feasible in lung cancer survivors because of several advantages:

  • Low aerobic capacity and limited mobility may limit aerobic exercise opportunity
  • Exercises can be completed in a sitting position
  • Band tension (resistance) can be accommodated for a wide range of abilities
  • Bands are portable and economical for a home-based program

The researchers concluded, “Cancer care providers may be advised to consider chair-based exercise program with resistance bands as a potential supportive care strategy for lung cancer survivors.”

first-step-to-active-healthThe TheraBand First Step to Active Health provides full-color examples of the exercises used in this program, as well as an instruction manual and red TheraBand resistance band, making it ideal for cancer survivor exercise programs.

REFERENCE: Karvinen KH et al. 2014. Effect of an exercise training intervention with resistance bands on blood cell counts during chemotherapy for lung cancer: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Springerplus. 3:15


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