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Physical Activity and Exercise Benefits Cancer Patients and Survivors
Physical activity is a safe and proactive way to help prevent cancer and manage disease and treatment related side effects for cancer patients and survivors. This was the conclusion of an eight-page, evidence-informed publication written this spring by Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Physical Activity and Cancer Care Working Group. The In Practice was developed for family doctors and other primary care providers to share evidence about the benefits of regular physical activity and exercise among cancer patients and survivors.

The publication provides recommendations regarding appropriate types of physical activity for patients, including intensity, frequency and time needed to achieve the greatest benefit. The hope is that these recommendations will provide primary care providers with the guidance to begin routinely talking about the benefits of regular physical activity and recommending it for their patients who currently have cancer as well as for cancer survivors.

couple-stock photoWhile physical activity has been successfully included in disease management programs for patients with heart disease, for example, it has not yet been widely adopted as part of the standard practice for cancer patients and survivors.

Dr. Melanie Keats, Associate Professor, School of Health and Human Performance, Dalhousie University, says the evidence is clear. “Physical activity is a critical …yet under-prescribed and exploited means to enhance the overall health and wellbeing of both cancer patients and survivors.”

The type and level of physical activity that a patient or survivor can safely engage in will depend on many things: how active they were prior to diagnosis and treatment, the type and stage of their cancer, their energy level and the treatment they are receiving. While many things should be considered, the American College of Sports Medicine says that some activity is better than no activity.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has developed physical activity guidelines and tools for health care providers to support them in advising an appropriate range of physical activity for cancer patients and survivors. These are available at

Cancer patients and survivors who are interested in learning more about how physical activity might benefit their own treatment and care should talk with their health care provider.

In supporting and encouraging cancer patients and survivors to be physically active at a level appropriate to their circumstances, family physicians and other health care providers will be helping them to: decrease their chance of recurrence; improve their physical and psychological health; lessen disease and treatment related side effects; and improve their quality of life.

The full In Practice is available on Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s website at

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