Fitness and Quality of Life

Photo of Shem-shem Pablo

By David Haas


Fitness may not cure cancer, but it does make a significant impact on quality of life. The National Cancer Institute recommends that adults receive about 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week. Although you might not be able to maintain this level of activity after diagnosis, you should still do what you can to improve your energy levels and achieve optimal treatment results.

Effects on Energy Levels

Physical activity is known to increase energy in cancer patients. A 2004 study found that prostate care patients who exercised regularly experienced less fatigue during radiation therapy than those who did not perform any physical activity. Increased energy levels may also make certain cancer treatments more effective, according to the National Cancer Institute. 

Effects on Common Symptoms

Cancer patients who require bed rest also benefit from gentle exercises and stretches. Low impact exercise decreases common bed rest symptoms like stiff joints, weakened muscles, breathing problems and digestive issues like constipation. Other studies by the National Cancer Institute have linked regular yoga practice to decreased risk of insomnia in cancer patients.

Effects on Survivorship

Although exercise is not a cancer cure, some studies suggest that it may increase survival rates. A 2005 study found that women with breast cancer who exercised frequently had high survival rates than those who did not. Exercise was particularly beneficial for women with hormone responsive tumors. Other studies suggest that exercise may decrease the chances of cancer recurrence in colon cancer survivors.

Effects on Emotional Wellbeing

Many cancer patients experience periods of depression and emotional distress. However, studies show that physical activity may decrease the severity and frequency of depression symptoms. Yoga is particularly beneficial, since it focuses not only on physical wellbeing but also relaxation and breathing techniques.


Some cancer patients may find it hard to incorporate exercise into their daily routine. For example, mesothelioma patients often experience severe breathing difficulties due to lung tissue damage. Even if your cancer symptoms prohibit moderate or high intensity exercise, consult your doctor or caregiver to discuss lower intensity options, like walking or yoga. Even a small amount of physical activity can make a significant difference in your quality of life.