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The importance of physical activity

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, but did you know that it can also affect the prognosis for cancer patients? Many studies have already demonstrated that physical activity and a healthy diet can help not only prevent cancer, but also reduce the risk of relapse and fight the growth of new cancers. In addition, a healthy lifestyle can also decrease the risk of a wide range of complications ranging from cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis to depression and diabetes.

photo-1444309251453-6b95825ea872Physical activity’s therapeutic value is continuously demonstrated in a number of studies. Researchers who conducted studies on breast cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer survivors have found that patients who are regularly physically active are less likely to relapse and even more likely to survive than patients who are not physically active. An analysis of studies of over 23,000 breast cancer patients showed that physical activity had a huge effect on patient survival rates after diagnosis: mortality rates for patients who regularly engaged in moderate to intensive physical activity were 29% lower than the average and 43% lower than those of patients who had little exercise.

Physical activity and reducing symptoms

Staying physically active during and after canter treatment also reduces a wide variety of treatment related side effects. Some of the side effects improved by physical activity include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of bone density
  • Incontinence
  • Pain
  • Decreased cardiac function
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Reducing physical activity, on the other hand, can have several negative side effects which can quickly spiral out of control. It may lead to loss of appetite, which in turn can cause a loss of muscle mass and weakened resilience. This can increase fatigue, making it more difficult for the patient to perform daily activities. As a result, quality of life will likely decrease and the chances of mortality increase.


Although the amount of physical activity to benefit the prognosis is unclear (and depends on a variety of personal factors), the American College of Sports Medicine has created exercise guidelines for cancer survivors. They recommend to engage in moderate physical activity for at least 150 minutes each week or intensive aerobic exercise for at least 75 minutes each week. They also recommend resistance training twice a week for at least 10 minutes. photo-1418874478290-e7bc1086d373

Some level of physical activity can be beneficial for everyone -even if you are elderly and suffering osteoporosis, or if you were physically inactive prior to the diagnosis, or if you are bed-ridden. Even when undergoing extreme treatments, it is best to avoid inactivity if possible—doing something is better than doing nothing.

How to start?

To start being physically more active is not always easy after or during a cancer treatment. To start, one is recommended to reduce your time of physical inactivity. More specific, this means: go for short walks, try to reduce the time sitting in the sofa or on a chair. Gradually build up. Group classes can help. There are more and more classes for cancer patients and survivors to promote physical activity. Look for one in  your area.

Consult your doctor and a physiotherapist to determine the best way for you to partake in physical activity. It is never too late to get started!