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Health, quality of life may improve with exercise for cancer survivors

January 31, 2012|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Cardio and resistance training may benefit people following cancer treatment.
Cardio and resistance training may benefit people following cancer treatment. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Exercise has been touted as a good way to help prevent certain diseases and conditions, but can it be useful after the fact? Yes, says a study, which suggests that a fitness regimen can enhance the health of patients following treatment.

The paper analyzed 34 studies that looked at the effect of exercise on patients who had breast cancer, as well as other types of cancer, such as prostate and lung. The various studies included aerobic, resistance and strength workouts, the average length was 13 weeks and the average number of people in each trial was 93. Most of the control groups consisted of people who were sedentary or told to do no exercise.

Breast cancer patients who exercised showed improvements in body mass index, weight and blood sugar control, and had better lower limb strength. They also had less fatigue and depression and had an improved quality of life.

For those with other types of cancer, improvements were seen in BMI and body weight, oxygen consumption and hand-grip strength (fitness measures), as well as depression and quality of life.

The type and intensity of the exercises were factors in how patients responded. Combining cardio with resistance training, for example, had a more profound effect on physical and emotional fitness, plus general feelings of well-being for breast cancer patients than for those just doing cardio.

Often after completing treatment, the study authors said, cancer survivors pick up their work and personal lives only to find that their energy is flagging and their quality of life is suffering.

"These unwanted effects of treatment can be prolonged and hinder the patients' return to normal life," the authors wrote.

The study was released Tuesday in the British Medical Journal.

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