Physical Activity and Quality of Life Following Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

by Greg Bennett, M.S., CSCS, RCEP, Exercise Physiologist

Article originally appeared in 2009 Breast Care Newsletter


Seventy percent of cancer patients experience a loss of energy and an impairment of physical performance in the course of their illness and treatment. Furthermore, up to 30 percent of cancer survivors have been reported to experience a loss of energy for years after completion of treatment. This impairment in physical fitness is a significant contributor to decreased quality of life (QOL). With an estimated 12 million American cancer survivors, it is important to develop interventions to maintain QOL following cancer diagnosis. Physical exercise has been shown to be an effective intervention that addresses the broad range of QOL issues including physical, functional, psychological, emotional and social well-being.

Recent research with breast cancer patients has shown that functional well-being is the most important measure of overall satisfaction with life. Numerous reports from clinicians, physical therapists, nurses and patients themselves testify to the benefits of a physical exercise program in improving cardiovascular fitness, pulmonary function, anxiety, depression and self-esteem. Intervention programs should meet the American College of Sports Medicine’s guidelines for the recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardio-respiratory fitness. Aerobic activity, defined as the rhythmic contraction and relaxation of large muscle groups over a prolonged time, has been shown as a new method for rehabilitation of cancer patients affected by the problem of “energy loss.” Aerobic activities such as walking, biking and swimming should be performed days per week for at least 30 continuous minutes.

A complete physical exercise program should also include a muscular strengthening component of choosing eight to ten exercises performed for one set of 10 to 12 repetitions for two to three sessions per week. The effectiveness of physical activity as a QOL intervention following cancer diagnosis will depend to a large extent on the adherence of the participants in such a program. Self-maintained exercise will be necessary for long-term success in any exercise program. All patients recovering from cancer treatment are eligible for a special Clinical Therapeutic Membership at the Memorial Health & Lifestyle Center.

Contact Greg Bennett at 574-647-2665 for more information.

Greg Bennett, M.S., CSCS, RCEP is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist at Memorial’s Health & Lifestyle Center in South Bend, Indiana.