Even a little exercise may help cancer patients live longer

Regular exercise before and after a cancer diagnosis significantly improves odds of survival, a new study finds.

Among more than 5 800 US patients with a range of early- to late-stage cancers, those who exercised three or four times a week before and after their diagnosis had a 40% lower risk of death than inactive patients, researchers reported.

Much lower risk of death

But survival gains were strong even for patients who began exercising only after their cancer diagnosis.

"Patients who reported never doing any type of exercise until they were faced with a cancer diagnosis cut their risk of death by 25–28% compared to those who remained inactive," said first author Rikki Cannioto. She's an assistant professor of oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York.

Patients who exercised once or twice a week also had a much lower risk of death than inactive patients, suggesting that any amount of regular, weekly activity is better than no activity, according to the researchers.

Study participants had blood or head and neck cancers, as well as breast, prostate, lung, colon, kidney, oesophageal, bladder, ovarian, endometrial, pancreatic, liver or stomach cancers. Others had sarcoma or cervical, thyroid, testicular, brain or skin cancers.

Encouraging finding

The strongest link between exercise and reduced risk of death was seen with eight types: breast, colon, prostate, ovarian, bladder, endometrial, oesophageal and skin cancer, the research team said.

The results "solidify the importance of the message that when it comes to exercise, some weekly activity is better than inactivity," Cannioto said in a Roswell news release.

The finding that low-to-moderate weekly exercise is associated with improved survival is particularly encouraging, Cannioto said, given that cancer patients and survivors can be overwhelmed by the current recommendations of at least 30 minutes of daily moderate-to-intense physical activity.

The study was published recently in the journal Cancer Causes & Control.

Image credit: iStock

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