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Exercise is Essential Medicine for Cancer Survivors

Walking is excellent exercise.

Exercise is known to be a factor in cancer prevention, but after one is already diagnosed and in treatment, most physicians tell their patients to “take it easy.” A new UK report from leading charity Macmillan Cancer Support takes the opposite approach. Their findings suggest that physical activity during cancer recovery is just as important to long term health as other therapies and should, in fact, be “prescribed” by doctors in all stages of post-cancer treatment.

Moderate Intensity Exercise May Help Reduce Cancer Recurrence Risk

Ciaran Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support said that cancer patients would be shocked if they knew how much physical activity could help their recovery. His report entitled “Move More” reviews over 60 studies and includes a survey of 400 health professionals who treat cancer patients. Overall, the experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity per week to prevent disease recurrence and to minimize the side-effects of treatment, such as fatigue, weight issues, swelling, impaired mobility, and depression or anxiety.

Specifically, the review finds that doing this recommended level of physical activity can reduce recurrence and mortality from breast cancer by up to 40% and from prostate cancer by up to 30%. For patients with bowel cancer, exercise can reduce the risks by as much as 50%.

Read: One Third of Breast Cancer Cases Avoided with Diet and Exercise

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Jane Maher, a leading clinical oncologist and Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan, suggests that what is needed is a cultural change. Doctors and nurses should begin prescribing physical activity to patients “at all stages of cancer from initial diagnosis through to the later stages.” During cancer treatment, for example, physical activity can improve or prevent decline of physical functioning. In advanced cancer, exercise may help maintain independence and well-being.

Read: Lifting Weights Reduces Lymphedema Symptoms

The group emphasizes that the exercise does not have to be strenuous, but patients should strive to be more physically active each day by gardening or going for a brisk walk. Older adults (age 65 and older) should include muscle strengthening and balance and coordination exercises at least two days out of the week.

There are some cases where physical activity should be modified, warns Macmillan, so every cancer patients should discuss recommendations with their physician.

"The importance of physical activity for people living with and beyond cancer: A concise evidence review." Written by Dr Anna Campbell, University of Dundee; Jo Foster, Macmillan Cancer Support; Dr Clare Stevinson, Loughborough. University and edited by Dr Nick Cavill (Cavill Associates Ltd). For Macmillan Cancer Support.

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