Exercise: A vital cancer prevention strategy

Exercise: A vital cancer prevention strategy

Worldwide, more than 10 million individuals are diagnosed with cancer. According to International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), 25% of cancer cases are due to obesity, overweight, and a sedentary lifestyle. In the rehabilitation of oncological patients, physical exercise has attracted widespread attention.

In research studies exploring the impact of exercise in cancer patients, remarkable improvements in psychological and physiologic functioning have been witnessed in patients taking part in exercise programs.

There is robust evidence for a lowered risk of some cancers with increasing physical exercise. The most powerful evidence exists for colorectal and postmenopausal breast cancer with a possible link for prostate, lung, and endometrial tumors.

Let us explore how exercise can aid in cancer prevention and management:

  • Why physical exercise is essential for cancer patients?
  • Role of exercise in cancer prevention
  • Exercise benefits in cancer survivors
  • Exercise program and prescriptions
  • Conclusions

Why physical exercise is essential for cancer patients?

Physical exercise is an attractive cancer-preventive approach. Interest in physical exercise as a means for primary prevention of life-threatening cancer is considerably rising. Physical activity:

  • Strengthens your immune system
  • Possess the ability to attenuate the effect of cancer
  • Boosts quality of life during cancer treatment
  • Lowers the risk of certain cancers
  • Reduces the risk of cancer recurrence
  • Aids cancer survivors to cope up and recover from cancer treatment
  • May enhance the health of cancer survivors and prolong their survival
  • Minimizes risk of second primary cancers and other chronic disorders
  • Mitigate symptoms that substantially hinder with the daily life of cancer patients and survivors such as diarrhea, lack of appetite, paresthesia, physical and mental fatigue, constipation, treatment-related fatigue, arthralgia, muscle pain and other pain, insomnia, depression, and anxiety

Role of exercise in cancer prevention

Exercise may diminish the risk of developing a primary tumor. About 150 studies have investigated the link between physical exercise and tumor prevention at specific cancer sites.

The mechanism for the association between exercise and cancer includes reduced obesity and central adiposity, alterations in endogenous metabolic and sexual hormone levels, growth factors, and modifications in immune function.

Exercise benefits in cancer survivors

Numerous studies have illustrated that exercise has valuable effects on physical fitness and quality of life endpoints in cancer survivors including:

  • Nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, pain, functional and physical well being
  • Flexibility, functional capacity, body weight and composition, muscular strength
  • Depression, anger, rigor, anxiety, self-esteem, mood, satisfaction with life, and overall quality of life

These studies have led to exercise being advocated to cancer survivors by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and also as a potent treatment for fatigue in cancer survivors.

The general consensus is that physical exercise has a modest positive impact on supportive care outcomes including fatigue, aerobic fitness, physical functioning, muscular strength, and quality of life. However, the results are not as the post-adjunct setting.

Physical exercise may aid cancer survivors to live longer by minimizing the risk of :

  • Cancer recurrence or retarding cancer progression
  • Other life-threatening disorders including second primary tumors

The study results portrayed that the higher physical activity is linked with a minimized rate of

  • Cancer-specific death and all causes of mortality
  • Breast and colon cancer recurrences

Exercise program and prescriptions

According to The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), there are five vital components in an exercise prescription: frequency, intensity, time, type (FITT Principle), and progression.

The following table enumerates the FITT principle of exercise prescription:

FITT principal components





Cardio respiratory (Aerobic training)

3 to 5 days per week

40% or 50-85% heart rate reserve

40% or 50-85% maximum oxygen consumption reserve

55% or 65-90% maximum heart rate

20 to 60 minutes

Dynamic use of large muscle groups


2 to 7 days per week

Stretch to tightness at the end of the range of motion but not to pain

15 to 30 seconds 2 to 4 times/ stretch

Static stretches (All major muscles)

Muscular strength and endurance (Resistance training)

2 to 3 days per week

12-16 RPE (rate of perceived exertion)

1 set of 3 to 20 repetitions (e.g. 3 to 5, 8 to 10, 12 to 15)

8 to 10 exercises (All major muscles)

Exercise progression depends on many variables such as the person’s age, exercise tolerance, and goals. The rate of adaptation dictates the rate of exercise progression. The guidelines on exercise progression state that:

  • The frequency and duration should be raised before intensity
  • For the deconditioned cancer patient and those who are witnessing noxious side effects of treatment, the progression should be generally slower and more gradual


For improving your health, physical exercise is very crucial. There is adequate evidence to advocate exercise in cancer survivors after careful evaluation and tailoring on exercise prescription on the basis of the patient's health status. Throughout the spectrum of cancer, physical exercise yields valuable benefits.

However, there is a paucity of awareness of the type, intensity, and amount of exercise required for primary prevention and for managing patients at different stages of disease progression. Further studies should focus on firmly establishing the advantages of physical exercise to cancer survivors.

Add physical activity to your daily routine and keep your exercise easy and fun !!

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