Exercise as Medicine


“It’s best to do a little of something than a lot of nothing”

These are the words of advice Dr. Daniel C. Hughes had at Thursday’s Ejercicios y Cáncer class at our LIVESTRONG HQ. Dr. Hughes works at the UT San Antonio Health Science Center doing research for cancer survivors. Thursday’s LIVESTRONG Cancer Education Class covered what kinds of exercises cancer survivors can and should be doing during and after treatment.

Dr. Hughes recommends that cancer survivors, at any stage in their treatment, stay as active as possible. The best way to do this is to create a customized program for each person, with the consult of a doctor. Survivors should start exercising at the point that is most comfortable for them and work their way up to increase resistance.

Research has shown that some of the psychological and physical challenges that survivors face can be prevented, treated or rehabilitated through exercise. This research also showed that it is safe for cancer survivors to exercise within their limits, and can even improve quality of life. It is also ok to exercise every day. Dr. Hughes highlighted:

Some benefits of exercising:
• Reduced risk of death
• More energy, less fatigue
• Improved mood
• Improved bone density
• Less joint pain
• Weight control

Some risks of NOT exercising include:

• Risk of secondary cancers
• Anxiety and depression
• Obesity
• Recurrence

He also explained the difference between physical activity and exercise. Physical activity is described as any movement where your body isn’t resting. Exercise is a structured and focused physical activity with the intention of improving physical fitness. Physical fitness includes cardio respiratory capacity, strength and muscular resistance, and flexibility. These 3 are all important and they each contribute to a healthier lifestyle, combined with a balanced diet.

Physical activity can be:

• Housework (vacuuming, sweeping, walking up stairs, cutting grass etc)

And exercise includes:

• Cardio respiratory, such as walking, running, dancing, cycling, swimming
• Strength and muscular resistance, such as weight training
• Balance and flexibility

Some general physical activity guidelines Dr. Hughes provided are:

• 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardio respiratory exercise per week or
• 75 minutes of high intensity cardio respiratory exercise
• 2-3 muscular strength sessions per week
• Balance and flexibility exercises on days that one doesn’t exercise

Also, it is very important to note that certain types of cancer patients should avoid specific exercises, which is why one should consult a doctor before starting to exercise. For example, breast cancer patients shouldn’t exercise with arms above the head, and blood cancer patients should avoid high-impact exercises.

This class was held in Spanish, but there are many other cancer classes being offered in both English and Spanish at the LIVESTRONG HQ. For more information contact LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Center at 1-855-220-7777 or cancer.navigation@livestrong.org


  1. After chemo I returned to the gym. I started in the pool, the water would support me while I reaccustomed myself to regular exercise. Knowing myself well enough to know that on some days I’d feel really good, and probably over do things and be unable to do anything for days, I had one simple rule – NEVER swim more more lengths than you are prepared to swim tomorrow. Every day I had to swim at least the same number of lengths as I swam yesterday, and every day I cautioned myself not to overdo it because I had to swim at least that number of lengths tomorrow. Some days were easier than others … but very soon, surprisingly soon, I was swimming 60 lengths with ease. Slow and steady DOES win the race!!!

  2. Answertech says:

    I agree! So does my oncologist. I am on gemza AND abraxcine (chemo) 3 weeks on, 1 off and cycle including racing. Also weights. Tumours in pancreas has halved. Secondary in liver almost gone. 4 months diag, 3 months chemo

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