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Researchers Find Exercise is the Best Treatment for Cancer-Related Fatigue

Just two and a half hours per week of aerobic physical activity can decrease the risk of chronic illnesses, and according to new research out of the University of Rochester, aerobic physical activity can actually help cancer patients.

Cancer patients often feel lethargic throughout the day as they have to continually fight the disease, deal with the onslaught of medications, and battle the emotional stresses involved. Because of all these serious factors, fatigue is a very common problem with cancer patients, but exercise might rectify that.

“If a cancer patient is having trouble with fatigue, rather than looking for extra cups of coffee, a nap, or a pharmaceutical solution, consider a 15-minute walk,” said lead study author Karen Mustian, Ph.D., M.P.H., and associate professor with the University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Surgery’s Cancer Control Program. “It’s a really simple concept but it’s very hard for patients and the medical community to wrap their heads around it because these interventions have not been front-and-center in the past.”

In addition to the U of R’s research, the Wilmot Cancer Institute contributed to the study and published it in JAMA Oncology.

“Our research gives clinicians a valuable asset to alleviate cancer-related fatigue,” Mustian added.

The researchers analyzed the outcomes of 113 unique studies that involved testing for cancer patients experiencing fatigue. All trials were randomized and involved more than 11,000 patients; nearly half were women with breast cancer and 10 studies focused on studies involving male cancer patients.

The scientists discovered that both aerobic and anaerobic exercise can significantly reduce cancer-related fatigue issues.

“Exercise doses are low to moderate and work well in people who have historically been sedentary,” Mustain added. “You don’t have to be an athlete or fitness buff to do them or benefit. Exercise works during treatments like chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy, as well as after they are complete.”

Healio reports that the study also discovered that pharmaceutical interventions did not improve fatigue related to cancer and physical exercise resulted in the largest improvement.