Benefits of physical activity in people with cancer

Beneficios de la actividad física en los pacientes con cáncer

Benefits of physical activity in people with cancer

We all know the benefits physical exercise has for our health, fundamentally in helping to prevent cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis.

However, some patients who have been diagnosed with cancer have questions about whether they can exercise on a regular basis.

The oncologists’ answer to this question is always yes. Performing moderate physical exercise has clear positive effects in patients diagnosed with cancer of any type. However, the exercise itself must be adapted in form and intensity to the disease, age and physical condition of the patient.


Benefits of physical exercise during cancer treatment

It is a mistake to think that rest alone is the formula for recovering from diseases like cancer. In fact, sedentary lifestyles increase joint stiffness, loss of muscle mass and difficulty falling asleep. Some believe that strenuous exercise may be bad for the health of people in treatment, but studies have been conducted that show that it in fact improves the patient’s immune system.


Regular physical exercise produces multiple benefits in cancer patients, the most common of which include:

  • A positive impact on the patient’s mood and mental health, reducing anxiety, and improving night-time rest and self-esteem.
  • Reducing pain in cancer patients, and specifically breast cancer patients who are treated with hormone therapy with aromatase inhibitors. Exercise improves the tolerability of these drugs by reducing the bone and joint pain they frequently cause.
  • Improved patient quality of life.
  • A positive impact on survival in patients with breast, prostate and colorectal cancer.
  • Improved tolerance to cancer treatments by reducing some of the side effects, like lack of appetite, insomnia and fatigue.


However, there are some barriers to exercise among patients, such as fear of pain or being overweight. Also, not all cancer patients can do all types of exercise, so we recommend always talking to your doctor first.


Are there specific exercises for people with cancer?

There are no specific exercises generally recommended for cancer patients; exercise should be personalized for each patient. What is advisable is a standard minimum of 30 minutes of walking, 5 days a week.

However, this needs to be adapted to each particular situation, and if this minimum cannot be reached, it is always better to exercise a little than to do nothing at all. If the individual circumstances of the patient allow, gradually increase the duration, intensity and frequency of physical exercise.

Talk to your oncologist first. He or she can give you guidelines and tips, as well as refer you to a specialized physical therapist for assessment and treatment.


In summary, regular and adapted physical activity in cancer patients provides benefits in the patient’s mood, tolerance to treatment, pain management and prolongs survival, while also reducing the risk of developing some types of cancer, mainly colon and breast cancer.

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