Evidence of Benefits of Exercise
Studies have shown that physical activity levels tend to reduce significantly after cancer diagnosis and remain low for many years after treatment is completed. From this low baseline there is great scope for exercise interventions to improve the health and well-being of patients with cancer. Cancer diagnosis can signal a “teachable moment” with patients often demonstrating an enhanced motivation to change lifestyle behaviours, especially within the year after diagnosis.
During cancer treatment and rehabilitation, rest is best has been the traditional approach. However, it has been shown that low levels of physical activity in patients with cancer result in further de-conditioning and symptoms of fatigue, loss of functional capacity and reductions in quality of life. Inactive patients with cancer may also be at higher risk of secondary tumours and a recent study of breast cancer and colorectal cancer survivors has indicated a 50% risk reduction in mortality among those who are regularly active when compared to those who had a sedentary lifestyle
More and more evidence points to the fact that even moderate exercise can have very positive results for people with cancer. A systematic review of 33 controlled trials (25 randomised) concluded that exercise interventions during and after cancer treatment can lead to moderate increases in physical function with no evidence of increased symptoms of fatigue or other adverse effects. Several other recent reviews also concluded that exercise has a large potential to improve both physical and psycho-social aspects of quality of life in patients with cancer during and after treatment.
Focus group studies have also found that exercise has strong psychosocial benefits for cancer patients. As Dr Vicki Conn a leading researcher in the US states in Journal of Clinical Oncology, June 2006. Exercise also has been shown to give patients the sense that cancer treatment isn’t just about surgery, drugs and radiation. It gives them a sense that they can do something for themselves, and for some people that is tremendously important.