Sarah Cannon - August 17, 2016

Should I exercise during cancer treatment? Does exercising reduce the risk of cancer? Does exercise help reduce the risk of cancer returning? The short answers to these questions are yes.

A balanced lifestyle, including regular exercise, helps keep your body stronger and healthier, especially during and after the cancer journey.

In one recent study conducted, a doctor at Copenhagen University Hospital found that moderate, regular exercise not only reduced the size of current tumors in mice, but also decreased the susceptibility of developing cancer. The results showed that exercising produces more immune cells in the body, as well as adrenaline, which can both help fight cancer cells. Researchers are continuing to study this connection with more conclusive results.

Another study conducted by the American Cancer Society tracked 73,000 women over the course of 17 years and found that walking three miles in 60 minutes each day was "solidly linked" to lowering breast cancer rates. The study also showed that seven hours of activity per week, or one hour per day, reduces the risk of cancer between 14 and 25 percent, depending on the levels of intensity of the activities.

Carrying extra weight on your body is a risk factor for cancer and cancer recurrence because excess body fat can affect hormone production, which can lead to tumor growth. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that approximately 20 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. are related to unhealthy lifestyles.

If you are not currently exercising regularly, gradually work your way toward active movement about 45 to 60 minutes a day. If you do not have that time to commit at once, break it up into 10 or 15 minute increments of brisk walking or another activity you can incorporate into your daily life.

During cancer treatment, it is common to be more sedentary than normal due to fatigue and not feeling well. As a result, you may lose your muscle mass. Hormonal changes during cancer treatment can also contribute to increased body fat and decreased muscle. Talk to your doctor about the best time to slowly incorporate light strength training, cardiovascular exercise and flexibility as well as stretching exercises to strengthen your body. It is important to remember that exercising can also help minimize stress and depression, which can be common while undergoing a life-changing journey such as cancer.

In addition to exercise, eating a nutritious and balanced diet is also crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle during and after cancer treatment. Talk with your care team about designing a meal plan that works for you to make sure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs.

Small, attainable goals are the best way to start working toward a fit and healthy lifestyle that you can start today! Learn more helpful tips during survivorship on the Sarah Cannon website.