Healthy living

Cancer survivors should exercise

Cancer survivors should exercise Boosts survival, reduces treatment side effects

Exercise can reduce the risk of dying from cancer, boost recovery and may even prevent the disease from recurring, a report says.

Yet many cancer survivors could be at greater risk of serious long term health problems, because they are unaware of the importance of physical activity to their recovery.

Traditionally cancer patients have been advised to “rest up” and “take it easy” after cancer treatment, but the report, Move More, by Macmillan Cancer Support, says this approach is outdated and could actually put patients at risk.

Currently, cancer patients are advised to undertake 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "Cancer patients would be shocked if they knew just how much of a benefit physical activity could have on their recovery and long term health, in some cases reducing their chances of having to go through the gruelling ordeal of treatment all over again.

"It doesn’t need to be anything too strenuous, doing the gardening, going for a brisk walk or a swim all count.

"Health professionals can refer patients to a variety of services such as physiotherapy, specialist exercise programmes at leisure centres or walking groups."

The report points to research that shows that following the recommended levels of exercise cuts a woman's risk of breast cancer recurrence and dying from the disease by 40 per cent, and reduces a man's risk of dying from prostate cancer by around 30 per cent.

Six hours of physical activity a week has also been shown to reduce the risk of dying from the disease by about 50 per cent in both sexes.

Exercise also reduces the risk of side effects from cancer and its treatment including fatigue, depression, osteoporosis and heart disease, the report states.

Dr Jane Maher, chief medical officer of Macmillan Cancer Support and a leading clinical oncologist. said: "The advice that I would have previously have given to one of my patients would have been to 'take it easy'.

"This has now changed significantly because of the recognition that if physical exercise were a drug, it would be hitting the headlines.

"There really needs to be a cultural change, so that health professionals see physical activity as an integral part of cancer after care, not just a optional add-on."

This article was published on Mon 8 August 2011

Image © Alban Egger -

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