Skip to main content

I Can Answer That: Exercise and Cancer

Read Time: 3 minutes

Video transcript

Hi, my name is Adriana Coletta, PhD, MS, RD. I am an assistant professor here at the University of Utah and Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Can exercise help me during treatment?

There is strong evidence to support that exercising during cancer treatment, and even before and after cancer treatment, helps with improving fatigue, physical function, or when I say physical function, what I mean is that ability to continue carrying out your activities of daily living, being able to move like you're used to moving, and maintaining that independence. Fatigue, physical function, depression, anxiety, quality of life, and lymphedema, for example, in the context of breast cancer. Exercising during cancer treatment, there's strong evidence to show that it helps improve those six treatment-related side effects. There's also a moderate level of evidence to show that exercising during treatment, and also before and after, support bone health and improved sleep quality.

How much physical activity is recommended?

Person playing tennis

Before cancer treatment, and after an individual's done with cancer treatment, the recommendation is the same as the National Physical Activity Guidelines, which is engaging in 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate intensity, aerobic exercise like walking, hiking, biking, things like that, and then to engage in two days per week of strength training. And the recommendation for that is whole-body resistance training exercises two days a week, two sets of 8-15 reps. 

Now when an individual is undergoing cancer treatment, the recommendation changes slightly. The recommendation for resistance training is still the same. But for aerobic exercise, the recommendation is 90 minutes per week. It's generally advised to go for 30 minutes, three days a week, but it really doesn't matter how you slice the time as long as you get the total volume in, or as close to that total volume of 90 minutes per week of aerobic exercise as you can while undergoing active treatment.

Is strength training important to my recovery?

For recovery from cancer treatment, strength training is very important. It's important to try to maintain muscle mass or continue to try to increase muscle mass, before, during, and after cancer treatment. There is a large body of evidence that supports adequate muscle mass and its relationship with improved survival outcomes for cancer. Adding any type of strength training to stay strong before, during, and after treatment will be really helpful for survivorship and to help folks with getting through their cancer treatments.

What is the POWER program?

Physical therapist guiding patient through strength training exercises

Within our Huntsman Cancer Institute, we have a hospital-based exercise oncology program that is run through our Wellness CenterThe POWER program. Personal optimism with exercise recovery is an individualized program that offers one-on-one exercise training and the modes of delivery for that training can be either in person here at our Wellness Center gym, or the exercise training sessions can be carried out through telehealth. The Wellness Center also offers a variety of group exercise classes. So, all really great resources here that we have available at our institution to help folks get moving at any point within your cancer care journey.

Cancer touches all of us.