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Exercise: A Key Cancer Healing and Prevention Therapy

Exercise. It’s a word that means different things to different people. Some of us see it as a natural endorphin booster and welcome release. Others view it as something to dread and avoid at all costs. And others still have a sporadic relationship with it, which never develops into anything consistent. Regardless of how you view it, we all know it’s important—especially with regard to healing cancer.

Health Benefits

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines physical activity as

“any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles; such movement results in an expenditure of energy. Physical activity is a critical component of energy balance, a term used to describe how weight, diet and physical activity influence health, including cancer risk.”

Researchers have concluded that moderate to vigorous physical activity can improve health in the following ways:

  • Controlling weight and preventing obesity
  • Reducing inflammation and hormone levels
  • Maintaining strong bones, joints and muscles
  • Improving insulin resistance and immune system function
  • Lowering the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Promoting psychological well-being

Additionally, several studies have revealed convincing evidence that physical activity can reduce the risk of certain cancers, including breast, colon, endometrial, lung and prostate. However, despite these known benefits, NCI reports that more than 50 percent of Americans do not engage in enough regular physical activity.

Link Between Exercise and Cancer

While regular exercise won’t cure cancer, it can help speed recovery, reduce side effects, improve prognosis and reduce recurrence. Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, wrote:

“Cancer patients would be shocked if they knew just how much of a benefit physical activity could have on their recovery and long-term health, in some cases reducing their chances of having to go through the grueling ordeal of treatment all over again.”

Specific Cancer Risk Reduction

Research shows that physical activity may directly reduce the risk of developing these cancers:

  • Breast cancer – According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, women who exercise have a 30- to 40-percent lower risk of breast cancer, regardless of their family history. Most studies show the higher the level of activity, the lower the risk. And although activity throughout a person’s life is important, exercise during adolescence may be especially protective. A number of studies also suggest that women with a normal body mass index (BMI) may benefit the most from exercise.
  • Colon cancerAccording to NCI, people who exercise regularly have about a 40-percent lower risk of colon cancer, compared with those who don’t exercise regularly, regardless of BMI. Those who exercise with high-intensity activity receive the greatest protective effect.
  • Endometrial (uterine) cancer – NCI reports that physically active women have a 20- to 40-percent reduced risk of endometrial cancer, regardless of age. Women who work out at a high intensity receive the greatest risk reduction.
  • Lung cancer – Studies have shown that physically active individuals experience about a 20-percent reduction in their risk of lung cancer. One possible explanation for this link is those who exercise are less likely to smoke tobacco, a leading cause of lung cancer.
  • Prostate cancer – Research findings aren’t as clear about the link of exercise to prostate cancer, but it’s possible that men who are physically active experience a reduced risk of the disease, and regular activity could slow the progression of prostate cancer in men age 65 and older.

Additionally, reports that mice who exercised for an hour a day, five days a week for 32 weeks experienced fewer incidents of liver cancer than sedentary mice. Professor Jean-Francois Dufour told Medical News Today:

“It’s been previously unknown whether regular exercise reduces the risk of developing [liver cancer]. This research is significant because it opens the door for further studies to prove that regular exercise can reduce the chance of people developing [liver cancer]. The results could eventually lead to some very tangible benefits for people staring down the barrel of liver cancer, and I look forward to seeing human studies in this important area in the future.”


The American College of Sports Medicine recently released a report that advised cancer patients to avoid inactivity and stated that physical exercise is safe during and after most types of cancer treatments. Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH, FACSM, writes:

“We’re seeing better everyday function and overall higher quality of life for cancer survivors who exercise. In preliminary observations, breast cancer survivors experienced improved body image as a result of a regular physical activity program. Add that to improved aerobic fitness and strength, decreased fatigue and increased quality of life, and exercise proves to be a crucial part of recovery for cancer survivors.”

Of course, our medical director, Dr. Tony Jimenez, recommends that exercise plans should be tailored to each individual. But to the extent they’re able, cancer patients and survivors should adhere to the 2008 federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.

Effective Resolutions

Here at Hope4Cancer, we recognize exercise as an essential component of cancer treatment, and we encourage our patients to daily walks on the beach and to stand on our whole-body vibration machine. It’s not only a great way to get low impact exercise, but also stimulates the lymphatic system, which is key to cancer healing.

The impending new year is the perfect opportunity for us all to resolve to incorporate exercise into our daily lives. Set small, attainable goals (“I will take a 15-minute walk every day during lunch”) rather than broad ones (“I will exercise more”) to increase your chance of success. And always listen to your body; if you feel you need a break, take time to rest. Before you know it, your stamina will increase, and you’ll be capable of more than you ever thought possible.

Cheers to a healthy New Year!

What is your relationship with exercise? Join the conversation by tweeting @Hope4CancerMex or commenting on the blog or Facebook page.

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