Summaries of exercise studies

In a landmark 1998 study by Dimeo et al., cancer patients getting high dose chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants (a highly toxic regimen that involves weeks-long hospital stays) underwent aerobic training experienced a 25 percent reduction in diarrhea (a common side effect of radiation), a 28 percent reduction in pain, a 15 percent reduction in low white-blood-cell counts, a 12 percent reduction in hospital stays, as well as significantly less fatigue and emotional distress than their sedentary counterparts.


Dimeo F. Fetscher S. Lange W. Mertelsmann R. Keul J. Effects of aerobic exercise on the physical performance and incidence of treatment-related complications after high-dose chemotherapy. Blood. 90(9):3390-4, 1997

Summaries of some other recent exercise studies and links to PubMed abstracts:

  1. Patients getting chemotherapy received brochures about exercise. They were later surveyed about their levels of fatigue and whether they exercised during chemo. Patients who did not exercise were more fatigued than those who did.

  2. Breast cancer patients recovering from surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation were guided in individualized exercise routines. Their recovery was surveyed after the exercise program. All the patients improved in various aspects of heart/lung function, mood or fatigue, especially those who had received a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

  3. Chemotherapy patients in a randomized trial who exercised at least 20 minutes, three times per week (a very moderate amount of exercise), were found to have less chemo-induced nausea than those who did less than this amount of exercise.

  4. A systematic review of studies of methods to reduce fatigue in cancer patients found that exercise was more effective in reducing fatigue than the other interventions studied, including education, sleep promotion or relaxation.

  5. Breast cancer patients getting chemotherapy were randomly assigned to resistance exercise training, aerobic exercise training or no exercise training. Aerobic exercise significantly improved percent body fat, aerobic fitness and self-esteem; resistance exercise significantly improved muscle strength, lean body mass, chemotherapy completion rate and self-esteem. Quality of life, fatigue, anxiety and depression were also improved by exercise but not significantly. Exercise did not cause lymphedema or other adverse side effects.

  6. Women beginning chemotherapy for breast cancer were assigned to aerobic exercise, resistance exercise or no exercise training. Aerobic exercise prevented the decline in bone density usually seen during cancer chemotherapy. This could contribute to preventing in osteoporosis in these patients. Exercise also improved aerobic capacity and muscle strength at a time when a decrease in fitness is usually observed.