Health & Family

Study shows exercise has healing powers

The standard weapons in the fight against cancer — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — may soon be joined by something far simpler: exercise.

New research shows that regular physical activity helps reduce the risk of recurrence of breast cancer and slows the advance of prostate cancer.

In a few years, exercise will probably be prescribed regularly for cancer rehabilitation, said Melinda Irwin, an expert on cancer and exercise at Yale University School of Medicine. Personal trainers may join oncologists, surgeons and radiologists as members of the cancer-treatment team.

Exercise will become a “targeted therapy, similar to chemotherapy or hormonal therapy,” Irwin said.

Any regular physical activity – the equivalent of a 30-minute walk, five times a week – will do.

“Don't think you have to work up a sweat or train for a marathon to benefit,” Irwin said.

Exercise offers many other advantages: It fights the fatigue caused by cancer treatment, calms anxiety and helps survivors feel better about themselves and their bodies.

There are 10 million cancer survivors in the United States, 22 percent of them women who have had breast cancer, 17 percent of them men who've had prostate cancer. Exercise makes sense for most of them – to live longer, avoid other health problems, and just feel better.

Researchers' findings so far suggest that exercise reduces blood levels of insulin; helps repair infection-fighting T-cells; and reduces levels of circulating estrogen and testosterone, two hormones linked with breast, endometrial and prostate cancers.