Top three roles of physical exercise in cancer prevention and treatment

You know that exercise is important for your health. But did you know exercise plays an important role in lowering your risk of cancer and can improve your quality of life during and after cancer treatment? Here are the top 4 roles of exercise in cancer prevention and treatment: 

  1. Exercise reduces cancer risk

American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute found in a recent research study that physical activity was associated with a significantly lower risk of 13 cancers. These include colon, breast, endometrial, head and neck, rectum, bladder, lung, esophageal, liver, stomach, kidney, as well as myeloid leukemia, and multiple myeloma. The effect of exercise in reducing cancer risk is different in different kinds of cancer.  For example, 3-5 hours per week of high-intensity exercise can lower the risk of breast cancer by 15% to 20% , colorectal cancer by 24%, gastric cancer by 19%,  endometrial cancer by 20%, esophageal cancer by 21%, kidney cancer by 23%, and bladder cancer by 13% to 15%. 

  1. Exercise reduces the side effect of cancer treatment

Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and targeted therapy can cause several side effects that can lead to poor quality of life or stopping treatment (which can affect survival).  Research has shown that exercise can prevent some of these side effects. Exercise can increase not only body composition, but it can also significantly alleviate treatment-related fatigue, lymphedema, anxiety, depression, physical function, and improves cognitive function. The response to exercise varies for different type of cancers. For example, the fatigue decreases more significantly in patients with gynecological cancer, blood cancer, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer than other cancers. Exercise can also improve the therapeutic effect of cancer treatments, by reducing post-surgical complications, and increasing the anticancer effect of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.  

  1. Exercise improves prognosis

A number of research studies have confirmed that moderate exercise may improve survival rates for breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer. Cancer patients who exercised before and continue to exercise after treatment can improve their survival by as much as 40%. Even those who did not exercise in the decade before diagnosis and exercise after treatment can improve their survival by 25% and 28% compared to patients who are sedentary.    

How much exercise do you need? The current recommendations are:

  • 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 to 100 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of each intensity each week. This physical activity can be done in episodes of any length.
  • muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days a week
  • balance training, in addition to aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity

But if you have not exercised in a while then start with what you can do and build up gradually. For example, start with 15 minutes of exercise per day and 3 times per week for a week or two. Then increase it to 20 minutes per day and 3 times a week for the next week or two. Eventually you will reach the recommended amount of exercise and you will be on your way to reducing your risk for cancer, cancer treatment side effects, and increasing your prognosis. 

You don’t have to join a gym. You can walk around your house or outside if the weather is nice. Or visit your state’s Department of Parks and Recreations may offer free exercise classes held in parks, where you can exercise with others but in a safe environment. 

For more information on exercise and cancer visit National Cancer Institute (Physical Activity and Cancer Fact Sheet – National Cancer Institute)