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National Cancer Institute

Recovery from Cancer: Does Exercise Help?

Bernardine Pinto, Ph.D.
Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine
The Miriam Hospital
Providence, RI

  • Exercise can reduce risk for other chronic diseases, may have a role in preventing future cancers or recurrences, and may impact quality of life after cancer. Cancer patients often experience a decrease in activity that may lead to decreased muscle strength, increased fatigue and weakness, and increased risk for osteoporosis and other chronic conditions (i.e., high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease).
  • A small pilot study of 24 women with breast cancer assessed fitness, mood, and body esteem before and after a 12-week supervised exercise intervention (1 hour of aerobic exercise three times per week). Women who exercised had significant improvements in fitness and body esteem and a trend toward improved mood, compared to those who did not exercise.
  • Home-based exercise programs may be more effective than onsite programs because of their ease and convenience for participants. Phone calls and tip sheets were used to encourage women who had completed treatment for breast cancer to exercise on their own (walking at moderate intensity for up to 30 minutes five times per week). These women exercised more and had slight gains in fitness, felt less fatigued, and had greater body esteem than a control group. Most of these benefits were maintained for as long as 6 to 9 months after the intervention.

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