Physical exercise improves cancer patients' health

Cancer patients who participate in a regular physical exercise program display 'robust and clinically significant' improvements in physical and mental health compared with patients who do not exercise, according to Canadian researchers from the University of Alberta and the Alberta Cancer Board.

"Cancer diagnosis and its treatments are often associated with negative side effects that diminish quality of life," says Kerry S. Courneya, Ph.D., lead author of the study. "Overall, the studies have consistently demonstrated that physical exercise following cancer diagnosis has a positive effect on quality of life including physical, functional, psychological, and emotional well-being."

Courneya and Christine M. Friedenreich, Ph.D., examined 24 studies of exercise following cancer diagnosis. Most (14) of the studies included breast cancer patients in early stages of the disease. Other studies included patients with leukemia, solid body tumors, head and neck cancer, colorectal cancer, and childhood cancers. They report their findings in the current issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Eighteen of the studies were designed to test a specific exercise program for cancer patients, following patients as they used a stationary bicycle, walking, or resistance training for 12 weeks to one year. Six of the studies described the exercise history of cancer patients and survivors before, during, and after treatment.

In 16 of the 18 intervention studies (89 percent) and five of the six descriptive studies (83 percent), cancer patients who exercised showed significant benefits in physical measures, such as stamina, muscle strength, and pain, as well as psychological factors, such as mood, self esteem, and satisfaction with life.

The researchers caution that the effects of exercise may not necessarily extend to other cancers that have not been studied in the research literature, such as prostate, lung, kidney, bladder, and uterine cancers.


Contact: Kerry S. Courneya, Ph.D.
Center for the Advancement of Health

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