Exercise drops cancer death risk for patients

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“Exercise is the best medicine and should be prescribed to every cancer patient.”

According to an analysis of 71 existing studies, cancer patients can drop their risk of death and increase their odds of survival with exercise.

People who get at least two and half hours of moderate activity like brisk walking, per week, are 13 percent less likely to die from cancer than those with the lowest activity levels. (That’s about 21 minutes per day of brisk walking)

Researchers looked at data in terms of MET-hours, which measures the energy expended in given activities and time spent doing them. Resting represents 1 MET, while a 4-MET activity like brisk walking uses four times as much energy. Doing a 4-MET activity for 30 minutes equals 2 MET-hours.

Cancer survivors who completed at least 15 MET hours per week of physical activity were 27 percent less likely to die from cancer. That’s about 35 minutes per day of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.

“Exercise may change the body’s response to cancer, and those who exercise more may live healthier lifestyles in other ways as well,” Liu said.

“But many of the high-quality studies included in this analysis accounted for other healthy-lifestyle factors that may have played a role,” Liu noted. (Like quitting drinking and smoking and eating tons of fruits and vegetables)

Leisure time physical activity or recreational physical activity, but not occupational activity, is protective against cancer according to most research, Liu said.

Based on huge evidence of the inverse association between physical activity and cancer mortality, there is no doubt that cancer patients should be physically active,” Liu said.

According to new guidelines issued in 2018 by The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COCA), exercise should be prescribed to all cancer patients alongside surgery, chemotherapy or radiation – and not doing so could be harmful.

Really we are at the stage where the science is telling us that withholding exercise from cancer patients can be harmful,’ lead author Professor Prue Cormie says.

‘Exercise is the best medicine someone with cancer can take in addition to their standard cancer treatments. That’s because we know now that people who exercise regularly experience fewer and less severe treatment side-effects; cancer-related fatigue, mental distress, quality of life.’

They also have a lower risk of their cancer coming back or dying from the disease, she says.

Reports indicate that approximately 60-70% of cancer patients do not meet aerobic exercise guidelines and it is estimated that approximately 80-90% do not meet resistance exercise guidelines.

According to the COCA official statement, all people with cancer should progress towards and, once achieved, maintain participation in:

-at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, jogging, cycling, swimming) each week; and

-two to three resistance exercise (i.e. lifting weights) sessions each week involving moderate to vigorous intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups.

Rebound, walk, run, bike, climb, surf, ski, lift weights, do yoga, karate, pilates, Jazzercise… just find a way to move your body 30-60 minutes every day!

Rebound exercise was an integral part of my daily anti-cancer exercise routine. It’s the best exercise for your immune system. More about rebounding here.


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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Dzndef

    I am lying on the couch while I read this. With all the controversy surrounding various approaches to cancer, there is one “treatment” that EVERYONE agrees on: Excercise. When your oncologist, GP, Naturopath and alternative practioners ALL advise you to exercise, well, its time to get moving.

    Thanks for the reminder, Chris! I’m getting off the couch right now!

  2. Jeanne Newberry

    Such great confirmation to what I do. I honestly wish I had a better attitude about exercising but knowing I am doing long-term good for my body does help. I still wish I had a better attitude!

  3. Steph

    I don’t disagree at all with the main point. We should all exercise – especially gentle movement throughout the day. The scientific evidence for its benefits are indisputable. I’m just a little skeptical of this particular article.

    I’m wondering if they were able to adequately control for the stage/severity of the cancer at diagnosis as well as performance status at diagnosis. I didn’t pay to download the paper, I just read the abstract, so I should probably shut my mouth, but I’m just curious. It was particularly curious to read in the abstract that they found that exercise post-diagnosis was more strongly associated with survival. This seems somewhat strange since diagnosis is just an arbitrary point in time, not necessarily a significant milestone in the disease – unless the cancer is so advanced that strong symptoms are what tip off the diagnosis – in which case the ability of exercise to hold off disease is dubious to me – rather I would think it goes the opposite way – that the disease prevents exercise, which makes those with less severe disease (and a naturally longer survival) better able to exercise. I think of this example because my mom was diagnosed with liver metastasis two months ago and she was basically bed-ridden at diagnosis and currently is not able to walk more than a mile or so a day. So in her case, the disease controls her physical activity, not the other way around.

    Also I would think that if their methodology was really sound, they would have published this important finding to an oncology journal with a higher impact rating than 5… I don’t know any oncologists who are opposed to exercise!! Or who would see this finding as a threat to conventional treatment. The audience for this paper should be oncologists, not exercise scientists!

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