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New exercise guidelines for cancer patients say regular activity is a good thing

June 3, 2010 |  1:08 pm

Before we knew about the vast benefits of exercise for people with cancer, physical activity wasn't always recommended during or after treatment. But with a number of good studies showing the benefits of exercise, more health professionals are recommending activity for cancer patients. New national exercise guidelines for people with cancer are being released this week, emphasizing the advantages of movement for people with various types of cancer.

I1w3c1kf "We have to get doctors past the ideas that exercise is harmful to their cancer patients. There is a still a prevailing attitude out there that patients shouldn't push themselves during treatment, but our message -- avoid inactivity -- is essential," Kathryn Schmitz, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and a member of the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said in a news release.

Schmitz headed up a 13-person American College of Sports Medicine panel that devised the exercise recommendations based on a number of published studies looking at the safety and effectiveness of physical activity during and after cancer therapy. The panel focused on studies about exercise for people with breast, prostate, hematologic, colon and gynecologic cancers.

Research has shown that regular exercise can improve quality of life for many cancer patients, giving them more energy and making it less arduous to go through treatments such as chemotherapy.

Although the same 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity suggested for the general population is also recommended for people with cancer, the prescription is not one-size-fits-all. The panel noted that although most forms of moderate exercise, such as strength training, yoga and swimming, are good for cancer patients, exercise regimens should be tailored to accommodate fitness levels, diagnoses and safety requirements. Someone with a compromised immune system, for example, may be better off not exercising in a public gym.

Said Schmitz, "We now have a compelling body of high-quality evidence that exercise during and after treatment is safe and beneficial for these patients, even those undergoing complex procedures such as stem cell transplants. If physicians want to avoid doing harm, they need to incorporate these guidelines into their clinical practice in a systematic way."

Schmitz will present the guidelines Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times