As we all know, exercise has countless benefits for our health and well-being. From improving our physical fitness and endurance to boosting our mood and mental health, regular exercise can make a huge difference in our lives. But did you know that exercise can also play a crucial role in cancer prevention, management, and treatment?
A recent study has explained that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as breast and colon cancer. It can also help manage the side effects of cancer treatment, such as fatigue, depression, and anxiety. And for people whose cancer has gone away, exercise can help prevent it from coming back.
But how do you know what types of exercise are best for cancer prevention, management, and treatment? And how much exercise is enough? That’s where Carly comes in. As an Exercise Physiologist with experience working with cancer patients and survivors, Carly has the knowledge and expertise to help guide you on your exercise journey.
Carly is an enthusiastic supporter of both physical and mental health, with a focus on physical activity and cancer. She always works to help her patients realise their greatest potential while fostering a fun and interesting environment for them. Carly has prior experience working in a gym setting, so she is aware of the value of incorporating creativity and fun into workouts while pursuing common goals.
She completed her Graduate Certificate in Exercise in Oncology and has a particular interest in working with cancer patients. This enables her to provide her patients, who are undergoing cancer treatment or recovering from the disease, with a distinct viewpoint and understanding.
Carly has always had a strong enthusiasm for physical activity; she participated in a variety of sports as a child and has more recently been preparing for marathons and triathlons. She is committed to assisting individuals of all ages and skill levels in achieving their objectives.
Q&A with Carly about Exercise and Cancer
1. How does exercise prevent cancer?
Exercise is able to reduce the risk of cancer as it can create a healthy microenvironment within the body.
Metabolic hormones such as high levels of insulin have been linked to a number of cancerous pathways that cause cancer growth and development. Exercise has been proven to be an effective intervention to control insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity, which can help reduce the risk of insulin-mediated cancers.
Inflammation caused by biomarkers has also been found to alter proteins in the body and increase the risk of developing cancer. Physical activity and weight loss have been shown in studies to reduce biomarkers that can make people more susceptible to cancer.1
2. Does exercise increase survival rate?
Evidence suggests that exercise can increase the survival rate of most cancer patients. Participating in physical activity during cancer treatment has been reported to assist with:
- The body’s physiological response to treatment
- Strengthening the immune system
- Reducing treatment-related side effects
- Decreasing feelings of depression and anxiety and improving the quality of life
- Decrease the risk of cancer recurrence
- Reduce the risk of developing other comorbidities
2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Evidence on Relationship Between Physical Activity and Mortality in Cancer Survivors
*Moderate Evidence Grade
|Approximate % Relative Risk Reduction
*McTiernan, A. N. N. E., Friedenreich, C. M., Katzmarzyk, P. T., Powell, K. E., Macko, R., Buchner, D., … & Piercy, K. L. (2019). Physical activity in cancer prevention and survival: a systematic review. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 51(6), 1252. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001937
3. What is known about the relationship between being sedentary and the risk of cancer?
A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of some cancers as it can lead to weight gain and cardiovascular diseases, which can be huge factors in cancer growth. If an individual is sedentary, they will likely have high levels of insulin and inflammatory hormones. This creates a poor microenvironment within the body, which promotes cancer cell growth.2
4. What exercise should people with cancer avoid?
A cancer patient should talk to a professional such as an Exercise Physiologist before starting an exercise program, as there are some areas that should be avoided depending on your cancer type, bone metastasis, other health conditions, and side effects such as neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, impaired balance, skin irritation, lymphedema, and neuropathy.
5. How much exercise is recommended?
A program that incorporates aerobic, resistance, and flexibility exercises is recommended for cancer patients.
Start slowly to build up to:
- Aerobic: 30–60 minutes daily at moderate to vigorous intensity (55–90 % HRmax); or, this can be broken up throughout the day into 10-minute blocks.
- Water Aerobics
- Resistance: 2-3 days per week on non-consecutive days, at moderate intensity (50-80% 1RM)
- 6-10 exercises, 1-4 sets
- 60-90 seconds of rest between sets
- Focusing on large muscle groups and multi-joint exercises before single-joint exercises.
- Flexibility: 3-4 days per week
- 1-3 sets per muscle group
- Hold each stretch for 15–30 seconds
ACSM Exercise Guideline for Cancer Patients and Survivors aimed towards specific cancer symptoms and effects
6. How can cancer patients incorporate exercise into their daily routine?
Exercise can be incorporated into a cancer patient or survivor’s daily routine by identifying when physical activity will suit them best. This means scheduling it in your day when you have the most energy or when you notice you have fewer symptoms that may interfere with your ability to exercise. If you are currently undergoing treatment, it is also best to schedule it around your treatment cycles.
There are lots of little ways to incorporate exercise throughout your day, such as:
- Taking the stairs instead of elevators
- Walking your dog
- Do resistance band or dumbbell exercises while sitting and watching TV
- Perform squats and calf raises at the kitchen table while waiting for the kettle to boil
- Complete your stretches while watching TV
- Ride your bike instead of driving short distances
- Get friends or family to exercise with you
7. Is exercise still beneficial for cancer survivors?
Exercise is strongly recommended for cancer survivors as it has a number of benefits towards reducing treatment related side effects. Evidence shows that exercise can have a positive impact on the following side effects:
- Cancer-related fatigue
- Pulmonary toxicity
- Muscle loss
- Peripheral Neuropathy
- Cognitive impairment
- Depression and anxiety
There is no need to be concerned because there is little risk of exercise causing harm if precautions are taken and professional exercise advice from an Exercise Physiologist is closely followed. If you have further questions about exercise and cancer, please don’t hesitate to email us at email@example.com.
Disclaimer: The information is general and does not take into account your situation. This information is intended to show you the correct exercise technique and should not be used to self-diagnose or self-treat any medical condition. If your pain persists or you have difficulty performing exercise, see your experienced Exercise Physiologist for proper guidance on 1300 090 931.
1 Brown, J. C., Winters-Stone, K., Lee, A., & Schmitz, K. H. (2012). Cancer, physical activity, and exercise. Comprehensive Physiology, 2(4), 2775. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c120005 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23720265/
2 Friedenreich CM, Ryder-Burbidge C, McNeil J. Physical activity, obesity and sedentary behavior in cancer etiology: Epidemiologic evidence and biologic mechanisms. Molecular Oncology 2021; 15(3):790–800. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32741068/