Research suggests cancer patients benefit from practical exercises

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For cancer patients, physical activity is vital to maintaining a healthy immune system. Researchers now have data that suggests even low-impact exercise is beneficial to patients with breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer, among others.

Among cancer patients weakened by treatment, analysis shows low-impact physical activity is an excellent jumping-off point on the journey to better health. The University of Pennsylvania published a quantitative review of 82 studies on physical activity for cancer survivors during and post-treatment. [1] The analysis found a positive effect on aerobic fitness, muscular strength, functional quality of life, anxiety, and self-esteem.

Health-related quality of life focuses on the impact of overall health – physical, mental, emotional, and social functioning – has on quality of life. Among the benefits of exercise are:

• Weight control
• Combating other health conditions and diseases
• Mood improvement
• Energy level boosts
• Getting better sleep

For meaningful health benefits and reducing the risk of diseases, including cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends 20 to 40 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each day. As strength improves, add 10 to 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity. [2] Also, include muscle-strengthening activities at least twice each week.

So, which exercises should cancer patients consider? Research bears out several exercises that help achieve a better physical quality of life depending on overall health and strength.


Rebounders are essentially a miniature trampoline. Jumping on the rebounder increases blood and lymph circulation, promoting the flow of lymph and, ultimately, helps flush toxins from the body. Rebounding also helps improve balance. Still skeptical? NASA studies show rebounding can be more effective than running. [3] (And about 85% of the impact on joints are relieved by jumping vs. running.)

Water Aerobics

With water aerobics, blood is pumped more easily because water pressure puts less stress on the heart. The water buoys the body, which helps alleviates stress on muscles and joints. Also, aquatic exercise will increase strength; pushing against the water stimulates muscle building. And the range of motion is more significant in water because there is less gravity. [4]

Aerobics (Cardio)

The collective efforts of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems are essential to overall health. If a cancer treatment includes chemotherapy, understand that the drug kills cancer cells and healthy cells. The chemicals in chemotherapy can cause heart damage (cardiac toxicity). A study in the United Kingdom revealed aerobic exercises improved the quality of life for cancer patients. [5] These exercises also reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.


Science shows yoga is good for physical and mental well-being. Also, flexibility increases by practicing this exercise. Rooted in ancient India, flexibility from yoga movements make muscles stronger, protecting against back pains and arthritis. As muscles stretch and contract, lymph drainage increases. Research also notes that yoga contributes to better sleep, which helps with cancer-related fatigue. [6]


Cycling can be either on a traditional bicycle, outdoors under the sun and in the fresh air, or a stationary bike. (Think: Peloton, the sweat-drenched in-home workout). The exercise is easier on joints compared to running or even walking. Cycling helps build muscles and improve balance. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, cycling also can be a stress reliever. [7]

For cancer patients, striving for optimum health is a daily quest to maintain and improve the immune system. There is ample research proving that exercise helps reduce the risk of cancer and may be an alternative cancer treatment. A healthy diet combined with physical activity and sound sleep directly relates to improved immune response and cancer prevention.


[1] An update of controlled physical activity trials in cancer survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

[2] Diet, Exercise, and Your Cancer Risk.

[3] Body acceleration distribution and O2 uptake in humans during running and jumping.

[4] Effects of aquatic exercise on muscle strength and functional performance of individuals with osteoarthritis: a systematic review.

[5] A Systematic Review of the Safety and Efficacy of Aerobic Exercise During Cytotoxic Chemotherapy Treatment.

[6] Influence of Yoga on Cancer-Related Fatigue and on Mediational Relationships Between Changes in Sleep and Cancer-Related Fatigue: A Nationwide, Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial of Yoga in Cancer Survivors.

[7] Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review.

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