Exercise May Help Cancer Patients Live Longer

By Steve Blanchard - October 16, 2019

It turns out exercise really is good for everyone.

According to new guidelines issued jointly by the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Cancer Society and 15 other international organizations, exercise can keep cancer patients alive longer and even prevent cancer in some cases.

While meant to be life-saving, cancer treatments can be tough on the body. For patients with an underlying heart condition, cancer treatment could make them especially vulnerable. Exercise, of course, stimulates cardiovascular health, which leads to an overall healthier lifestyle.

According to Jodi Miller, DPT, a physical therapist in Moffitt’s rehab services program, getting 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week is recommended for cancer patients. This can be done in 30 minute intervals spread out over five days.

And exercise doesn’t always mean long runs or lifting heavy weights in a gym, she said.

“Exercise can be any activity – walking, running, swimming, biking, tennis or yoga classes,” Miller said. “But it all adds up. You can even vacuum, dance, garden or push a shopping cart through the store.”

Combatting the side effects of cancer treatment can not only be challenging, but expensive. Exercise is one inexpensive way to improve quality of life. It can also help prevent infections and diseases, including cancer.

A 2010 recommendation by researchers said that cancer patients should find some way to exercise. Upon recent review, researchers agree that not only is that original recommendation correct, but that there is even more evidence that supports exercise as part of the standard treatment for people with cancer.

Of course, any activity should be discussed with your doctor, especially if you are undergoing cancer treatment. But resistance exercises with weights and resistance bands can benefit cardiovascular health. Miller recommends starting with low repetitions and light resistance before slowly increasing the intensity.

“Whole body exercises, like sit-to-stand, work major muscle groups and are most effective,” Miller said. “And it’s best for your cardiovascular health to spend more time standing and less time sitting. If you find yourself sitting a lot, take a few minutes each hour to stand up and move around.”

Make small adjustments to your routine like increasing your walking pace or slowly increasing the distance of your run. Don’t forget to listen to your body and give it time to heal after any strenuous activity.

Any exercise, of course, pairs best with a healthy diet. Experts suggest incorporating healthy decisions into your daily routine to improve your overall health, whether you are a cancer patient or not.

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