Worldwide published evidence clearly demonstrates that regular exercise helps well-being and cancer in four main ways:-
Exercise prevents cancer:
In terms of prevention, its has been estimated that being sedentary and overweight could account for 14% of male and 20% of female cancer deaths in the UK. For bowel cancer, for example, most environmental studies have demonstrated a reduction in the order of 40–50% for those at the highest levels of physical activity, with many demonstrating a dose-response relationship. The Harvard Centre for Cancer Control, for example, estimates that at least 15% of colon cancers could have been prevented by 30 minutes daily exercise a week. These data suggest that increasing physical activity is one of the major factors that is amenable to modification by individuals wishing to reduce their risks of cancer.
Exercise helps to fight established cancer:
Regular exercise after a diagnosis of cancer has been shown; to slow the growth rate of some cancers such as prostate or low grade leukemia’s; reduces the risk of cancer coming back and improves cure rates.
Exercise after cancer reduces relapse rates and improves survival:
Several large international studies have clearly shown that individuals who exercise regularly after cancer have better outcomes in terms of relapse rates and overall survival. For breast and bowel cancer, between 2.5 – 3 hours a week of vigorous exercise appeared to to be the target level and for prostate cancer, the target was 3 – 5 hours.
Exercise has been proven to helps side effects and risks during and after cancer treatments:
Regular exercise increases the sense of self-empowerment for both the patients and carers who can also join in with the activities. It improves social integration and can make you feel good about yourself. Many patients reported that exercise restored their confidence earlier after cancer treatments finished. As well as these benefits, there is strong evidence that exercise has major benefits on many of the symptoms and side effects experienced during and after cancer treatments.
Underlying mechanisms of how exercise fights cancer
A number of important physiological changes occur in the body during and after exercise which have specific anticancer properties. As well as helping reduce weight which in the long term has anti-cancer benefits these include:
- Prostaglandin levels
- Decrease in Insulin like growth factor
- Reduction in unhealthy blood fat levels
- Increased bowel transit time
- By improving body condition and weight
Specific exercise advice
After specific treatments such as surgery and radiotherapy, as well as generally getting fitter, it is advisable to perform the specific stretches and exercise advised by the nurses/physiotherapist or doctors. You should have been given a specific sheet to follow in these situations. If you feel you unexpected problems on/after treatment or have any worries or barriers to exercise, you can asked to be referred to a physiotherapist.
Worries and concerns
Exercise is generally safe. Of course people can fall off tread mills or sprain an ankle running but the benefits completely outweigh the risks. Nevertheless there are some special precautions which should be taken after cancer. If concerned in the first instance, the best way to get started is to ask your doctor or GP to refer to an exercise professional who has qualification in cancer rehabilitation (level 4) on the national exercise referral scheme. This will ensure you are supervised by a professional who is sympathetic and aware of the limitations and symptoms which are common after cancer; know what to look out for and know what to do if a problem were to arise during exercise.
About exercise during chemotherapy
Vigorous exercise will be difficult during chemotherapy and may actually increase the level of fatigue. However, regular light exercise and avoiding periods of inactivity will improve fatigue, digestion and reduce the risk of thrombosis (blood clots).
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