If you've been diagnosed with cancer, the latest wonder "drug" you might want to consider is — exercise. A report from the U.K.'s Macmillan Cancer Support found that being physically active helps cancer patients cut the risk of side effects from treatment, as well as lower the chances their cancer will come back.
The key is 150 minutes of moderately intense activity a week. That's the amount often recommended by health experts as the minimum level of activity for seeing benefits.
Moderately intense exercise includes brisk walking, riding a bicycle, ballroom dancing, mowing the grass, and walking on a treadmill.
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With these specific types of exercise, you'll notice an increase in your heart rate and breathing, but you'll still be able to carry on a conversation.
The British report, which reviewed more than 60 studies, offered four important findings:
1. Breast cancer. Engaging in moderately intensive exercise for 150 minutes a week can reduce the risk of cancer recurring or of dying from the disease by 40 percent.
2. Bowel cancer. About six hours of moderately intensive exercise each week can reduce the risk of recurrence and death from bowel cancer by up to 50 percent.
3. Prostate cancer. Cut the risk of dying from prostate cancer by 30 percent by getting the minimum 150 minutes of exercise each week.
4. All cancers. Patients being treated for all types of cancer can cut their risks of treatment side effects such as fatigue, depression, heart disease, and osteoporosis by getting the minimum recommended levels of activity each week.
Macmillan experts advise those who are currently undergoing cancer treatment to adjust their activity level to how they feel, but to participate in any activity they feel capable of doing — any activity is good. They also say that activity boosts a cancer patient's energy and cuts anxiety and stress while helping maintain a strong heart and bones.
"The evidence in our report shows just how important physical activity is to the recovery process of cancer. Yet very little attention to its benefits is given by health professionals or by those commissioning health services," says Ciaran Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support. "It is essential that physical activity services are available and 'prescribed' to all cancer patients.
"Cancer patients would be shocked if they knew just how much of a benefit physical activity could have on their recovery and long-term health, in some cases reducing their chances of having to go through the grueling ordeal of treatment all over again."
In the past, cancer patients were encouraged to rest after cancer treatments. But the report shows that this advice could actually put cancer patients at risk. Jane Maher, Chief Medical Officer of Macmillan Cancer Support and leading clinical oncologist said:
"The advice that I would have previously have given to one of my patients would have been to 'take it easy.' This has now changed significantly."
If physical exercise were a drug, Maher said, "It would be hitting the headlines."
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