Harvard Health Letter

Giving cancer its walking papers

Research demonstrates that exercise benefits cancer patients.

The health benefits of exercise need little introduction. Besides combating obesity — probably the major health woe for Americans these days — physical activity lessens your chances of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease and of having a stroke. And if you do get sick, it can be an important part of bouncing back. After a heart attack, regular exercise has been shown to reduce the chances of having another one. Physical activity can help keep the "black dog" of depression at bay.

Breast and colon cancer

A growing body of evidence suggests exercise could benefit cancer patients. In 2005, Harvard researchers found that simply walking on a regular basis helped breast cancer patients. The study focused on about 3,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer who are part of the Nurses' Health Study. Those who regularly walked three to five hours a week (or got comparable exercise) were 50% less likely to have a recurrence of their cancer than women who exercised less than an hour per week.

In September 2006, University of North Carolina researchers reported results showing that obese and overweight breast cancer patients tended to live longer if they had been physically active prior to their diagnosis.

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