• By Micah Dorfner

Keep Moving: The Importance of Exercise in Cancer Survivorship

April 8, 2016

three women walking and exercising together

It’s well-known that exercise decreases the risk of developing cancer. Studies show there’s a 25 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer among the most physically active women, compared to those who are least active.

This protective role of exercise is noted in many other cancers, including lung, endometrial, colon and prostate. But, did you know exercise is helpful during and after cancer treatment, as well?

According to the American Cancer Society, research shows exercise during cancer treatment can improve physical functioning and quality of life. Moderate exercise can:

  • Increase strength and endurance
  • Strengthen the cardiovascular system
  • Reduce depression
  • Decrease anxiety
  • Diminish fatigue
  • Improve mood
  • Raise self-esteem
  • Lessen pain
  • Improve sleep

Of course, there may be certain issues that prevent or affect a person’s ability to exercise due to disease or type of treatment, including:

  • Anemia (having a low number of red blood cells or quantity of hemoglobin or protein)
  • A weak immune system
  • Radiation treatment

Others should use extra care to reduce risk of injury, including older people and those with bone disease, arthritis or nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy).

“Many exciting studies show regular physical activity is linked to increased life expectancy after a diagnosis of cancer and, in many cases, a decrease in the risk of cancer recurrence,” says Kaye Holt, Mayo Clinic Health System nurse practitioner. “At least 20 studies of people with breast, colorectal, prostate and ovarian cancer have suggested physically active cancer survivors have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival compared with those who are inactive.”

American Cancer Society, World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research, American College of Sports Medicine and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advocate for physical activity for cancer patients and survivors. The American Cancer Society recommends cancer survivors take these actions:

  • Participate in regular physical activity
  • Avoid inactivity, and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after diagnosis
  • Exercise at least 150 minutes per week
  • Include strength training exercises at least two days per week

“Not everyone is ready to head to the gym during or after cancer therapy. However, reconnecting with an activity you like to do can increase your enjoyment and ability to stick with an exercise program,” says Holt.

Holt explains exercise can include a bike ride with friends or chasing your dog around the park. She also notes walking is a great activity for almost everyone, and swimming can be a wonderful alternative for those with joint issues. In addition, Holt says yoga is fantastic for strengthening, flexibility and balance concerns.