Physical ActivityCaution: Some complementary agents or therapies may be useful for cancer patients; however, some may be harmful in certain situations. MD Anderson Cancer Center cautions patients to consult with their oncologist before attempting to use any agents or therapies referenced on these pages. Inclusion of an agent, therapy or resource on this CIMER web site does not imply endorsement by MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Physical activity can be any movement produced by skeletal muscles such as exercise, sports, dance, home and occupational activities. Because this activity expends energy it balances the intake of energy from foods and is an important factor in weight control.
Convincing evidence exists that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cancers of the colon and breast. Several studies also suggest that it probably reduces risks of cancers of the prostate, lung and lining of the uterus.
Physical activity has also been found to cause changes in insulin resistance, metabolism, and hormone levels and these changes may help to prevent tumor development. In many studies, physical activity has also been correlated with an increase in self-esteem and overall quality of life.
People who exercise regularly really can live longer according to a study published in November of 2005 by the Archives of Internal Medicine. Increases of 1.5 to 3.5 more years lived free of cardiovascular disease were identified among over five thousand people followed in the Framingham Heart Study.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults have at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (breathing hard as in a brisk walk) on five or more days of the week or vigorous intensity (breathing hard and sweating) for at least 20 minutes on three or more days of the week. The thirty minutes of physical activity does not have to be done all at one time; it can be broken up into 10-minute segments during the day.
Children and adolescents should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day for five days a week.
How it is taken
A wide variety of options exist from chair exercises to walking to more active sports so one should never feel bored.
Patients recovering from surgery or side effects of cancer treatment may need special help provided by physical or occupational therapists.
Muscle soreness may occur if it is not part of a daily routine or if it is too soon after surgery or other treatment. Nausea may occur if one is exercising at a too high intensity or too soon after eating.
Injuries can occur with strenuous activity for which one is not adequately prepared. Persons with known cardiovascular disease or persons who have already experienced a major cardiovascular event (heart attack, stroke, or heart surgery), or men over age 40 and women over age 50 planning to engage in even moderate physical activity program should consult a physician first.
To avoid potential interactions, be sure to let your health care provider know if you use this or any other type of complementary therapy.
This summary of the scientific basis of physical activity in relation to cancer prevention and control is based on a review by the National Cancer Institute and recommendations of the American Cancer Society. For further information, please consult these resources:
- National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet: Physical Activity and Cancer
- American Cancer Society Physical Activity Guidelines
- MD Anderson Cancer Center Rehabilitation Services
A high quality, systematic review of physical exercise in cancer patients was published in 2005. For the results and conclusions of this review, view the PubMed Abstract.
A second article provides a descriptive overview and chronological perspective of developments of the exercise intervention studies in cancer patients. The article distinguishes between cardiovascular, resistance and flexibility training. For the results and conclusions of this review, view the PubMed Abstract.