Cancer and Exercise

16 May 2008

Although doctors normally advise cancer patients to rest, a study carried out at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre found that light exercise (walking) can improve overall health. Of 123 cancer patients, one third were asked to take walks regularly for an hour 3-5 times a week, one third did supervised walks either on a treadmill or a track at the centre, and one third only rested. Even though most of the patients were taking adriamycin, a cancer chemotherapy drug that can have side effects on the heart, those who exercised more showed better heart conditioning and overall benefits such as improved physical energy, and/or enhanced functional capacity, with improvement in the quality of life and psychological state (such as improved outlook and sense of well being, enhanced sense of commitment and the ability to meet the challenges of cancer and cancer treatment).

Although all the exercisers benefited, those who walked independently fared better (Journal of Clinical Oncology, February 2001). A separate study published in the journal Chronic Diseases In Canada has offered evidence linking regular physical activity with a reduced risk of colon and breast cancer - strong enough to warrant making physical activity an integral part of cancer prevention strategies. The authors say "We now have the consensus of scientific experts that physical activity should be a key component of cancer prevention" and recommend that people should take 30-45 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on most days of the week. Increased physical activity also can help prevent other chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.