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Cancer survivors urged to exercise

Exercise is a “wonder drug” for cancer survivors and may even prevent the disease coming back, according to a new report.

Macmillan Cancer Support said physical activity should be “prescribed” by doctors after “hard evidence” showed it can significantly help recovery and prevent other long-term illnesses.

Rather than patients being told to “rest up” as in the past, doctors must encourage people to get moving as soon as they feel able.

A review of more than 60 studies for the charity found people undergoing treatment for cancer – as well as survivors – could benefit from exercise.

During treatment, being active does not worsen people’s fatigue and has positive effects on mood and wellbeing, the study said.

Once treatment has finished, exercise can reduce the impact of side effects, such as swelling around the arm, anxiety, depression, fatigue, impaired mobility and changes to weight. “Long term, it is an effective way to help recover physical function, manage fatigue, improve quality of life and mental health, and control body weight,” the report said.

The research also showed exercise had an impact on preventing recurrence of a few specific cancers.

Women with breast cancer who exercise for 150 minutes a week at moderate intensity have more than a 40% lower risk of dying and recurrence of disease compared to women who are active for less than one hour a week.

Results of two studies on bowel cancer also show the risk of dying or the disease coming back is cut by about 50% in patients taking six hours a week of moderate intensity exercise, with around a 30% lower risk of dying among prostate cancer patients and a 57% lower rate of disease progression if they do three hours of moderate exercise weekly.

The authors behind the study said the Department of Health’s guideline of 150 minutes of moderate activity a week is appropriate for most cancer survivors if built up gradually. Moderate exercise includes very brisk walking, heavy cleaning such as washing windows, vacuuming and mopping; mowing the lawn, cycling and badminton.

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