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Cancer patients who exercise reduce their risk of death dramatically
Latest news | April 26, 2014

Taking part in physical activity after cancer diagnosis is associated with better survival

Exercise is good for you: a recent study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health provides yet more evidence that physical activity is beneficial to health and reduces the risk of early death.

Physical activity clearly decreases premature mortality in the generally healthy population and there is a wealth of data which shows that physical activity helps prevent cancer in the first place. However, until now, few studies have looked into whether engaging in physical activity after a diagnosis of cancer is associated with better survival.

This study investigated physical activity levels in over 1000 men in their early seventies who had been diagnosed with (and survived) cancer in their mid-sixties, and followed them over more than 20 years. Higher levels of physical activity amongst these study subjects was clearly associated with increased survival and lower risk of death, not just from cancer but from non-cancer causes as well. In this study, the amount of physical activity currently recommended for adults—at least 150  min/week of moderate-intensity physical activity —was sufficient to lower mortality rates, but the more exercise the study subjects did, the better their odds. Those who did the most exercisealmost halved their risk of dying.

Cancer survivors live extended lives today due to early diagnosis and better treatment. In the United Kingdom, there are more than 2 million cancer survivors, many of whom are highly motivated to do what they can to prevent a recurrence and improve their chance of survival.  

This study demonstrates that cancer survivors would do well to take up a form of exercise and increase their level of physical activity; to actively enhance their longevity. This should start by returning to normal daily activities as quickly as possible after surgery and continuing these activities as much as possible during any cancer treatment.  Thereafter, for adults to gain substantial health benefits, they should be taking at least 150 min/week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 min/week of vigorous-intensity activity (or an equivalent combination). Those whose physical conditions preclude participation in 150 min/week of moderate-intensity activity should be as active as they are able.The evidence is now stacking up: physical activity dramatically reduces the risk of death in cancer survivors.  All individuals should strive to avoid inactivity: any level of physical activity will provide health benefits, but the greater gains will come from greater amounts of physical activity.

Dr Courtney Kipps is a Consultant Sport and Exercise Medicine Physician at the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health and ProActive Sports Medicine, and Principal Clinical Teaching Fellow at UCL

This article was written for the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health (www.iseh.co.uk) In February 2014

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