Also known by these names
Benefits of Moving More
Moving your body reduces the risk of cancer and in promotes health after a diagnosis, as noted by the American Cancer Society and several medical groups in their clinical practice guidelines.
Movement includes many activities, such as these:
- Walking or hiking
- Participation in active sports such as tennis, soccer or basketball
- A workout at a gym
- Recreational activities such as dancing, bicycling, swimming, skiing or martial arts
- Group aerobic activities such as Zumba
- Active gardening, yard work or housework
- Movement therapies such as yoga, qigong and tai chi.
Finding an activity that is fun will increase both your motivation and your enjoyment.
Finding an activity that is fun will increase both your motivation and your enjoyment.1 Movement can also be combined with social activities, increasing the potential for fun and also strengthening your connections to family and friends.
Exercise may be measured in metabolic equivalents, or METs. MET-hours. Ten MET-hours per week is represented by any one of these activities:2
Frequent movement can help counteract the health risks of prolonged sitting. The American Institute for Cancer Research encourages people to break up long periods of sitting with frequent activity breaks.3 A large analysis of data from the Cancer Prevention Study-II Nutrition Cohort found that, among low to moderately active adults, replacing sitting with light physical activity was associated with a reduction in cancer mortality, all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality.4
Anticancer Lifestyle Program
Using expert videos, animation, text and interactives, the Fitness Module of the Anticancer Lifestyle Program explains the connection between fitness and health, providing some tools you need to develop a regular fitness routine.
This course is offered on a “pay-what-you-can” basis for 90-day access to all course modules.
Movement and Cancer Treatment
American Cancer Society’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors8
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Engage in regular physical activity.
American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention9
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life.
Be physically active.
Cancer patients may need to adjust movement types and levels during or after treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Following your doctor’s advice is important, but even within restrictions most patients can increase their level of activity and receive benefit. The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors that “the goal should be to be active as much as possible.”
Clinical Practice Guidelines
2009 evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for integrative oncology recommend referral to a qualified exercise specialist for guidelines on physical activity to promote basic health.”15
Clinicians should assess individual and community-level barriers to meeting the healthy lifestyle recommendations and support patients in developing strategies to overcome challenges.
The 2018 American Institute for Cancer Research guidelines for physical activity found strong evidence that being physically active decreases these risks:16
In addition, vigorous physical activity decreases the risk of both pre- and postmenopausal breast cancer.
Treating the Cancer
At least a moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking or climbing stairs is needed for benefit.
BCCT Senior Researcher Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, offers research on moving more and demonstrates some simple exercises.
Working against cancer growth or spread, improving survival, or working with other treatments or therapies to improve their anticancer action
A 2017 review of evidence came to these conclusions:24
A growing evidence base indicate that physical activity has potential value at all stages of cancer care.
Preliminary evidence associates regular physical activity after a cancer diagnosis with longer survival and lower risk of recurrence or disease progression.
Preliminary evidence suggests that following an exercise program before treatment (prehabilitation) leads to increased cardiorespiratory fitness, fewer post-operative complications and shorter hospital admissions.
Uterine (Endometrial) Cancer
Managing Side Effects and Promoting Wellness
Managing or relieving side effects or symptoms, reducing treatment toxicity, supporting quality of life or promoting general well-being
Physical activity interventions improve quality of life and other patient-reported outcomes during and after cancer therapy.
Reviews of research support the role of moving more in quality of life:
- "Physical activity interventions improve quality of life and other patient-reported outcomes during and after cancer therapy."47
- “Cancer survivors who exercise can potentially benefit from reduced levels of fatigue, and improved quality of life, physical function, and body composition.”48
- A large prospective study of breast cancer patients enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative found that increasing levels of exercise before diagnosis was associated with a significant graded reduction in subsequent cardiovascular events in long-term survivors of primary breast cancer.49
- Greater muscle density is associated with lower patient symptoms (including anxiety and depression) and reduced health care use.50 51 52
Movement has also been shown to reduce these symptoms and side effects of cancer and treatment:
A 2010 review and meta-analysis found these effects of physical activity interventions with cancer survivors:57
- A large effect on upper and lower body strength after treatment
- Moderate effects on fatigue
- A small to moderate positive effect for physical activity level, aerobic fitness, muscular strength, functional quality of life, anxiety and self-esteem
- With few exceptions, exercise was well tolerated during and post treatment without adverse events.
Reducing the risk of developing cancer or the risk of recurrence
Physical activity helps to lower cancer risk in several ways:
- Regular activity helps keep hormone levels healthy and reduce the contribution of high hormone levels to cancer risk.
- Being active may strengthen the immune system.
- Activity helps speed potentially harmful substances through the intestinal tract.
- Staying physically active can help manage body weight and the contribution of body fat to increased risk for many types of cancer.
Physical activity after a diagnosis of cancer is associated with a lower risk of cancer recurrence in survivors of several common cancers.
Stomach (Gastric) Cancer
Uterine (Endometrial) Cancer
Optimizing Your Terrain
Inactive women with newly diagnosed breast cancer were enrolled in an exercise intervention for about a month after diagnosis and until undergoing surgery. Compared to women participating in a mind-body intervention control group, those exercising demonstrated significant upregulation of 18 unique pathways, including several implicated in immunity and inflammation.90
A study with mice found that voluntary exercise accelerated muscle repair in old mice and improved old muscle stem cells function related to rejuvenation.91 Another study with mice found that exercise enhanced the effect of immune system CD8+ T cells, which fight certain forms of breast cancer and other solid tumors. As a result of exercise, tumor growth was reduced in mice inoculated with different types of cancer cells.92
What's the Difference between Exercise and Physical Activity?
According to Ted Schettler in The Ecology of Breast Cancer: "Exercise is a form of physical activity that is usually planned, structured, and done to improve some aspect of fitness such as strength, flexibility, or aerobic endurance. Exercise also improves general health, well-being, and overall quality of life. Physical activity includes activity that is part of daily life. Household, workplace, and lifestyle physical activity are most common."93
Both types of movement provide benefits.
Moving more is generally well tolerated by patients. However, some health conditions such as heart conditions or deep vein thrombosis may cause exercise to be a problem. Avoid exercise during bouts of vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. Patients may be advised not to exercise on days of chemotherapy treatments or for 24 hours afterward. All patients are encouraged to seek the advice of their healthcare provider before undertaking a new or increased exercise routine.94
Physical activity involves the risk of injury. Building strength and balance as exercise is gradually increased, paying attention to proper technique, and other precautions are recommended.95
A 2017 review of evidence noted a few cautions:96
- Avoid high-intensity activities when immunosuppressed, or when experiencing pain, severe fatigue, or compromised bone health.
- Avoid activities requiring balance when frail or experiencing dizziness or peripheral sensory neuropathy.
- Anyone with a stoma should start with low resistance exercise and progress slowly to avoid herniation.
Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems
|For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.|
Brian Bouch discusses integrative oncology, part 1
- Programs and protocols
- Alschuler & Gazella complementary approaches:97
- Cancer prevention
- Cancer treatment
- Hormone balance
- Immune system function
- Lowering risk of cancer recurrence/secondary cancers
- Reversing insulin resistance
- Treatment recovery and survivorship
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma
- Ovarian cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Block program98
- Cohen & Jefferies Mix of Six anticancer practices99 Anticancer Living. New York: Viking. 2018.
- Geffen Seven Levels of Healing100
- Lemole, Mehta & McKee top 5 lifestyle interventions for all their protocols101
- MacDonald breast cancer program102
- McKinney protocols103
- Ornish Lifestyle Medicine for prostate cancer
- Traditional systems
Non-cancer Uses of Moving More
Physical activity is used for these conditions and purposes:104
BCCT has not reviewed the effectiveness of moving more for non-cancer uses.
Written by Nancy Hepp, MS, and Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS; most recent update on December 4, 2020. Note: This summary draws from the American Institute for Cancer Research and other sources as noted. BCCT is grateful to Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, for his review and comments on this page.