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Disclaimer:  This information is not meant as direct medical advice. Readers should always review options with their local medical team. This is the sole opinion of Dr. Meakin based on literature review at the time of the blog and may change as new evidence evolves.

Exercise and Cancer

In a 2018 assessment, researchers discovered that approximately 80% of the American population is insufficiently active according to guidelines established by HHS. Although the proportion of men and women engaging in regular aerobic and strength training has risen since 2009, these data indicate a continued need for initiatives that facilitate more frequent physical activity.(1) Scientific research has long established the benefits of routine physical exercise, which represents one of the most important modifiable factors conferring protection against cardiovascular disease.(2) Beyond lowering blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and weight, resistance training builds muscle and improves the functionality of the vasculature. These physiological benefits, which particularly manifest in the arterial wall, accrue over time and may positively modify atherosclerotic plaque formation.(3) Continued research in this field has also revealed that physical activity strengthens the bones and minimizes the risk of fall-related injuries among older adults.(4) Psychologically, perks from exercise appear equally profound across many investigations.

Physical exertion can promote both transient and long-lasting gains in cognition. Such gains appear to be partially mediated by brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF): a neuropeptide widely expressed throughout the central nervous system. While researchers continue to elucidate the role of BDNF, results from previous studies have established its role in promoting hippocampal neurogenesis.(5) Exercise-induced epigenetic changes also very likely influence positive changes in signaling cascades involved in learning, memory, and mood.(6) In a randomized trial, researchers observed a dose-response relationship between exercise and depression; participants assigned to high-dose aerobic exercise experienced a 47% reduction in depression as measured by the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. Those assigned to the lower-dose exercise regimen, in contrast, enjoyed a 30% reduction in depression scores.(7) One estimate suggests that regular exercise extends life expectancy by roughly 4 years.(8)

Although research has established that the benefits of physical activity extend to cancer patients, awareness of this key fact appears limited. In a 2017 survey of oncology care providers (n=120), 80% of respondents reported unawareness of exercise guidelines for cancer patients. Additionally, they noted having poor knowledge of how and when to refer certain patients for tailored exercise regimens.(9) Reticence to recommend exercise in certain ca