Patients often worry that fatigue, one of the most common side effects of cancer treatment, will worsen if they become more active, but the evidence shows this is not the case; indeed, some studies suggest that being active reduces fatigue. Physical activity also lowers the risk of cancer recurrence and mortality – by about 50 per cent for bowel cancer and up to 40 per cent for breast cancer. Around 1.6 million cancer survivors are not physically active enough.The charity’s 2011 survey of 1,495 adults who have had cancer revealed that one in three (32 per cent) were less physically active since their cancer treatment.
Ways regular exercise may help you during cancer treatment
Keep or improve your physical abilities (how well you can use your body to do things)
- Improve balance, lower risk of falls and broken bones
- Keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity
- Lower the risk of heart disease
- Lessen the risk of osteoporosis (weak bones that are more likely to break)
- Improve blood flow to your legs and lower the risk of blood clots
- Make you less dependent on others for help with normal activities of daily living
- Improve your self-esteem
- Lower the risk of being anxious and depressed
- Lessen nausea
- Improve your ability to keep social contacts
- Lessen symptoms of tiredness (fatigue)
- Help you control your weight
- Improve your quality of life
When you are living disease-free or with stable disease
During this phase, physical activity is important to your overall health and quality of life. It may even help some people live longer. There’s some evidence that getting to and staying at a healthy weight, eating right, and being physically active may help reduce the risk of a second cancer as well as other serious chronic diseases. More research is needed to be sure about these possible benefits.
A growing number of studies have looked at the impact of physical activity on cancer recurrence and long-term survival. (Cancer recurrence is cancer that comes back after treatment.) Exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, body composition, fatigue, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, happiness, and several quality of life factors in cancer survivors. At least 20 studies of people with breast, colorectal, prostate, and ovarian cancer have suggested that physically active cancer survivors have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival compared with those who are inactive.