An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By City of Hope | July 18, 2017

If you’re fighting cancer, hitting the gym might be low on your priority list. Yet exercise is just as important now as it ever was – maybe even more so.

In fact, regular physical activity has been shown to boost the odds of survival for people with some types of cancer, said Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., a professor in the Division of Cancer Etiology in City of Hope’s Department of Population Sciences.Regular exercise improves the prognosis for people with colon cancer and breast cancer,” Bernstein said. “Those who exercise survive longer.”

Benefits of physical activity

While research hasn’t confirmed (yet) that exercise can improve survival for people with other types of cancer, being active pays off in many other ways. “There are some benefits no matter what type of cancer an individual has,” Bernstein said.

Exercise can:

  • Prevent muscle wasting and loss of function

  • Maintain range of motion

  • Improve balance, which can prevent the risk of injury from falls

  • Help you maintain physical independence

  • Help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight

  • Improve self-esteem

  • Reduce anxiety and depression, and improve mood

  • Reduce nausea


Starting an exercise routine

Cancer can take a lot out of you. It can be a challenge to summon the energy to exercise. Surprisingly, though, regular physical activity has been found to reduce symptoms of fatigue in people being treated for cancer.

Ready to get started? Here’s what you need to know:

  • Talk to your doctors. Choosing the right exercise program depends on a lot of factors, including your age, stamina, previous activity level and the type of treatment you’re receiving. Talk to your health care team about the safest way to get moving.

  • Start slow. You don’t have to run five miles or take a kickboxing class to enjoy the benefits of exercise. Start with regular walks or short rides on a stationary bike. As you build stamina, you can increase the intensity or try new activities.

  • Mix it up. For maximum benefit, draw from all different types of activity. Incorporate aerobic activity (such as brisk walks or swimming) to get your heart pumping. Add strength training (such as lifting weights or using resistance bands) to build muscle and maintain strength. And incorporate stretching to keep your muscles and joints flexible.


Keep on moving

Being active is just as important after recovery. There’s evidence, Bernstein says, that among people with breast, colon, prostate and ovarian cancer, those who are physically active have a lower rate of cancer recurrence.

Moving your muscles can also lower the odds of developing many other illnesses, including diabetes, dementia, depression, heart disease and stroke, as well as other types of cancer.

It might take some time after treatment ends to regain the energy and strength you had before your illness, but don’t give up. By incorporating regular activity into your routine, you’ll boost the chances of living and thriving postcancer.


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