Historically, clinicians have advised cancer patients to rest and avoid activity; however, current science shows this guidance is outdated.
“We’re seeing better everyday function and overall higher quality of life for cancer survivors who exercise,” said Kathryn Schmitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., FACSM, lead author of the cancer recommendations and presenter at the ACSM Annual Meeting. She is an associate professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and a member of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Among its conclusions, the roundtable consensus statement says that:
- To the extent they are able, cancer patients and survivors should adhere to the 2008 federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. In general, these guidelines (which are grouped into different age categories) are appropriate for cancer survivors. In particular, the first two words of those guidelines are relevant to cancer survivors during and after treatment: Avoid inactivity.
- Clinicians should advise cancer survivors to avoid inactivity, even for patients with existing disease or who are undergoing difficult treatments.
- Exercise recommendations should be tailored to the individual cancer survivor to account for exercise tolerance and specific diagnosis. For example, cancer patients with weakened bones may be advised to avoid heavy weight-training in order to avoid fractures.
- Clinicians and fitness professionals should pay close attention to cancer survivors’ responses to physical activity, in order to safely progress exercise programs and avoid injuries.
- Although more research should be done on the effects of strength training on cancer survivors, the practice generally appears to be beneficial.
The roundtable statement also recommends certain alterations to the federal physical activity guidelines for specific types of cancer: breast, prostate, colon, and hematologic (blood or bone marrow). Schmitz says exercise provides benefits to cancer survivors beyond the physical, too.
“In preliminary observations, breast cancer survivors experienced improved body image as a result of a regular physical activity program,” she said. “Add that to improved aerobic fitness and strength, decreased fatigue, and increased quality of life, and exercise proves to be a crucial part of recovery for cancer survivors.”
The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 35,000 international, national and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.