Exercise Boosts Immunity and Fights Cancer

Can exercise help prevent cancer and boost the immune system? Researchers say, “Yes!”

Exercise Prevents Cancer

BEAT CANCER – Studies show that exercise boosts immune systems in cancer survivors and prevents cancer.

Those cancer survivors who engage in a regular physical exercise program or routine are more likely to improve rapidly and to avoid future cancers.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska announced at The Integrative Biology of Exercise VI meeting, October 10-13, 2012 in Westminster, Colorado, that exercise may boost the immune system and help to prevent cancer from reoccurring.

Laura Bilek, research team leader, and other researchers stated that if cancer survivors exercised for several weeks after finishing chemotherapy,

“…their immune systems remodel themselves to become more effective, potentially fending off future incidences of cancer.”  

Cancer Exercise TreadmillT cells in the blood of 16 cancer survivors were analyzed by the researchers before and after a 12-week exercise program. Researchers discovered that the immune cells of the subjects converted from a form that is less effective at fighting disease to one that is more effective in overcoming cancer and infections. Past research studies have shown that the majority of T cells become less effective at fighting off disease after chemotherapy.

Bilek said, “What we’re suggesting is that with exercise, you might be getting rid of T cells that aren’t helpful and making room for T cells that might be helpful.”

It depends on the person’s physical condition. If a person is weak and out of condition, they should start slowly and gradually increase intensity and duration of physical exercise.  For the general population, the American Cancer Society recommends “at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 5 days a week.”  Cancer survivors should not expect to start at this high level of activity, however.  Research shows that women who exercise at moderate-to-vigorous levels for more than three hours per week have a 30% to 40% lower risk of breast cancer. This result held true for all women, regardless of their family history or cancer risk level. Some research has found a 38% to 46% reduced risk of uterine cancer in active women.
Cancer Exercise Man
Kerry Courneya, PhD, professor and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Cancer at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, says that many studies have been conducted that confirm that physical exercise helps to increase chances of recovering of cancer survivors and to prevent future cancers from developing. Courneya suggests aerobic exercises and weight training.

Cancer exercise

“Ideally, cancer survivors should do aerobic exercises and weight training,” says Courneya. “Both types of exercise are critical to the overall health and well-being of cancer survivors.”

Cancer woman runningAerobic exercises include things such as brisk walking, jogging, and swimming.  Aerobic exercise burns calories and helps increase metabolism and lose weight more rapidly.  It  lowers the risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. Weight training builds muscle.  Cancer survivors sometimes lose muscle weight and gain fat, through cancer treatment. For those with a high fat-to-lean mass ratio, weight training can help improve physical fitness and is especially helpful to cancer survivors.

ACS Fitness Guidelines

Cancer survivors should remember that they didn’t make it through chemotherapy just to sit around all day and watch TV for the rest of their lives. The American Cancer Society recommends to start slowly, work with a coach, physical therapist, and/or with their primary doctor or healthcare professional. Survivors should set goals, have a complete physical exam and get approval from their oncologists before starting a moderate-to-vigorous exercise program.

Courneya KS, “Exercise in cancer survivors: an overview of research.” University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. kerry.courneya@ualberta.ca, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise [2003, 35(11):1846-1852] Europe PubMed Central

Courneya KS, Mackey JR, Jones LW, “Coping with cancer: can exercise help?” Faculty of Physical Education, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2H9, CAN. kerry.courneya@ualberta.ca. The Physician and Sportsmedicine [2000, 28(5):49-73] Europe PubMed Central

Mock V, Dow KH, Meares CJ, Grimm PM, Dienemann JA, Haisfield-Wolfe ME, Quitasol W, Mitchell S, Chakravarthy A, Gage I, “Effects of exercise on fatigue, physical functioning, and emotional distress during radiation therapy for breast cancer.” Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, USA. Europe PubMed Central,  Oncology Nursing Forum [1997, 24(6):991-1000]

“Physical Activity and Cancer Risk,” Cancer.Net

“Active women can reduce risk of breast cancer by 12%, say researchers,” Press Association, The Guardian, Thursday 20 March 2014 14.04 EDT,

Mary Elizabeth Dallas, HealthDay Reporter, “Daily Exercise Lowers Breast Cancer Risk: Study”  HealthDay, March 20, 2014,

Jenny Hope, Medical Correspondent,“Exercising for an hour a day reduces the risk of breast cancer – regardless of a woman’s weight or age” , Mail Online, 12:39 EST, 20 March 2014


Jean E. DartThis article is written by Jean Voice Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University. Jean is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at www.montereybayholistic.com.

Disclaimer: The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.

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