Exercise for Cancer: Longer Life, Less Recurrence

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There’s abundant evidence that exercise and eating right can help prevent people from getting cancer. The latest information shows that exercise for cancer patients can also keep cancer from recurring.

“Several recent studies suggest that higher levels of physical activity are associated with a reduced risk of the cancer coming back, and a longer survival after a cancer diagnosis.

In studies of several different cancers, being overweight after completing treatment was associated with shorter survival times and higher risk of cancer recurrence.  Women who exercise after completing breast cancer treatment live longer and have less recurrence. Colorectal cancer survivors who exercised lived longer than those who didn’t.

What experts suspected has now been proven. As a cancer survivor, exercising could help you live a longer life — free from cancer.

What’s In It For Me?

The benefits of exercise for the general population are well publicized. But what if you’re a cancer patient?

Exercise has many of the same benefits for cancer survivors as it does for other adults. Some of these benefits include an increased level of fitness, greater muscle strength, leaner body mass and less weight gain.

In other words, exercise for cancer patients can make you fitter, stronger, and thinner — like anyone else who exercises.

Exercise can also:

  • Improve mood
  • Boost self-confidence
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes

When to Start


Studies show that after a cancer diagnosis, people slow down. Stress, depression and feeling sick or fatigued from cancer or its treatment all tend to make people less active.

The problem is, most people stay sedentary after treatment.

As a long-term solution to the problem of fatigue, taking it easy and avoiding activity is not a good solution. It is important for cancer survivors to get back to exercising to help their recovery. In other words: if you’ve down-shifted your activity level since your cancer diagnosis, now is the time to rev back up.

What to Do

Every person’s situation is different. Before starting a moderate to vigorous exercise program, see your doctor.

The following types of exercise can help cancer patients – and everyone else – get back in shape:

  • Flexibility exercises (stretching). Virtually everyone can do flexibility exercises. Stretching is important to keep moving, to maintain mobility. If you’re not yet ready for more vigorous exercise, you should at least stay flexible.
  • Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, and swimming. This kind of exercise burns calories and helps you lose weight. Aerobic exercise also builds cardiovascular fitness, which lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes.
  • Resistance training (Iifting weights or isometric exercise), which builds muscle. Many people lose muscle, but gain fat, through cancer treatment. For those with a high fat-to-lean mass ratio, resistance training can be especially helpful.

Ideally, cancer survivors should do aerobic exercises and weight training. Both types of exercise are critical to the overall health and well-being of cancer survivors.

How Much and How Hard?

For the general population, the American Cancer Society recommends “at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 5 days a week.”

This amount of exercise is proven to reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Experts say it that it should also be beneficial for cancer patients.

Unless you’re already very active, though, you shouldn’t expect yourself to achieve this right away. As with anything else, the key is to set small, achievable goals and build on your successes.

If you’ve already been active — keep it up! If you haven’t been active, start slowly, but start something.

Try to find an activity you enjoy. You may want to buddy up with someone at the same fitness level. Having a friend to work out with will increase your motivation.

Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged. Doing anything is better than doing nothing.

You can increase your physical activity without joining a gym, or even leaving the house. Just building more activity into your daily routine can get you started. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Take the stairs instead of riding the elevator
  • Buy a pedometer and increase your number of steps daily
  • Take frequent breaks throughout the day to stand, stretch and take short walks

What if you’re just too exhausted to exercise?

Sometimes fatigue can be so severe that it is good to rest temporarily. Rest for awhile, start again slowly and build up. Your energy level will inc

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