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Exercise for Cancer Patients: Fitness after Treatment

Exercise can help cancer patients maximize health for the long term. Here's how to get started.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Paul O'Neill, MD

Surviving cancer and making it through cancer treatment are major accomplishments. Most, if not all, survivors find a new priority in life: keeping cancer from returning. The latest research suggests that exercise for cancer patients may help.

If you've made it through the rough road of cancer diagnosis and treatment, you're probably thinking about what you can do to stay healthy. But just what is the best way to get fit, and maximize your long-term health? WebMD talked to the experts about the best exercise for cancer patients after treatment.

Exercise for Cancer Patients: Longer Life, Less Recurrence

There's abundant evidence that exercise and eating right can help prevent people from getting cancer. The latest information shows that exercise for cancer patients can also keep cancer from recurring.

"Several recent studies suggest that higher levels of physical activity are associated with a reduced risk of the cancer coming back, and a longer survival after a cancer diagnosis," said Kerry Courneya, PhD, professor and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Cancer at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

In studies of several different cancers, being overweight after completing treatment was associated with shorter survival times and higher risk of cancer recurrence.

Women who exercise after completing breast cancer treatment live longer and have less recurrence, according to recent evidence. Colorectal cancer survivors who exercised lived longer than those who didn't, two recent clinical trials showed.

"Clearly, any cancer survivor wants to do all they can" to prevent cancer recurrence, says Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society. "Surely some of their goals for healthy living should be around weight control" and exercise, she adds.

What experts suspected has now been proven. As a cancer survivor, exercising could help you live a longer life -- free from cancer.

Exercise for Cancer Patients: What's In It For Me?

The benefits of exercise for the general population are well-publicized. But what if you're a cancer patient?

"Exercise has many of the same benefits for cancer survivors as it does for other adults," says Courneya. Some of these benefits include an increased level of fitness, greater muscle strength, leaner body mass, and less weight gain.

In other words, exercise for cancer patients can make you fitter, stronger, and thinner -- like anyone else who exercises.

Exercise can also:

  • Improve mood.
  • Boost self-confidence.
  • Reduce fatigue.
  • Lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

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