An optimal exercise approach for cancer patients


Studies around the world have reported exercise is beneficial on physical and mental health in patients with cancer. The question is what type of exercise, and how much exercise, is optimal for patients with cancer?

To answer these questions, a recent study from Canada studied 301 participants with stage one, two, or three breast cancer. The participants were allocated to one of the below three exercise program groups:

  1. Standard group: a standard dose of 25-30 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (e.g., bike, treadmill, elliptical, and/or rowing machine) three times per week.
  2. High dose group: a higher dose of 50-60 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (e.g., bike, treadmill, elliptical, and/or rowing machine) three times per week.
  3. Combined exercise group: a higher dose of 50-60 minutes of combined aerobic (e.g., bike, treadmill, elliptical, and/or rowing machine) and resistance exercise (e.g., leg press, leg extension, leg curl, calf raise, chest press, seated row, triceps extension, biceps curl, and curl-up) three times per week.

All participants started the exercise intervention within one to two weeks of their first chemotherapy treatment and completed the intervention within three to four weeks after their final chemotherapy treatment.

This study found those participants in the high dose and the combined exercise groups had better physical functioning, treatment-related symptoms, sleep quality, and physical fitness compared to participants in the standard exercise group.

While there was no difference between different exercise groups during chemotherapy on long-term quality of life, treatment symptoms, and psycho-social factors, participants who participated in the combined exercise had better muscular endurance and were doing more resistance exercise than those who participated in the high dose exercise.

These findings suggest that performing resistance during chemotherapy may result in continued participation in resistance exercise and better muscular endurance after chemotherapy. Moreover, after treatment, participants who maintained exercise following the exercise guidelines for cancer survivors – at least 150 min/week of moderate aerobic exercise and 2 days/week of resistance exercise – had greater effects for quality of life, treatment-related symptoms, psycho-social factors, and physical fitness compared to those who did only one or neither types of exercise.

Reference: Centre for Active Living