Long-Term Follow-Up

Research Findings on Benefits of Exercise

 

Q: What is the most important thing a transplant survivor can do to ensure a healthier life?

A: Recent research has shown that regular exercise affects much more than physical strength, weight loss and cardiovascular health. A number of studies have shown clear benefits in memory and brain function, post-treatment fatigue, recurrent malignancy and the risk of new cancers. See:


Q: Can exercise really improve memory and brain function?

A: While many claims have been made for supplements, diets and other factors improving brain function, research studies have given conflicting results. However, moderate aerobic exercise, like walking for 45 minutes three times a week, has consistently improved memory and brain function - in some studies by as much as 20 percent.
 
Aerobic exercise increases the creation of new brain cells in the areas of the brain that control memory, complex thought and decision-making. Aerobic exercise also increases both the production of molecules that carry brain signals and the connections between cells where these molecules work. Other forms of exercise such as stretching and light strength training do not show the same specific benefit in memory and brain function, even though they certainly contribute other important health benefits. See:


Q: How does exercise improve fatigue?

A: A number of studies during the past 15 years have indicated that physical activity is the most important method for overcoming fatigue and decreased physical function after transplantation. Studies have evaluated exercise programs for cancer or transplant patients before, during, and after treatment.

Study designs have varied, but the consistent finding is that exercise such as walking 30 minutes a day, strength training with resistance bands, and stretching can have a substantial benefit.

Shorter or less severe chemotherapy side effects, enhanced immune function and elevated mood have all been observed to be linked to exercise.  Improvement in these areas significantly decreases the fatigue that results from prolonged, intensive treatments like chemotherapy and bone marrow or blood stem cell transplantation. See:


Q: What effect does exercise have on cancer risk?

A: The physiological changes that result from exercise have several effects on the risk of cancer.  More than two dozen studies have shown that women who exercise have a 30-40% lower risk of breast cancer.  This result appears to be related to the effect of exercise on estrogen levels.

Similarly, dozens of studies have shown that regular exercise decreases risk of colon cancer by 20%, especially in men. Studies have even shown that exercise reduces the risk of cancer in heavy smokers.

Exercise can also decrease the risk of recurrent disease in cancer survivors.  Exercise reduces the amount of fat in the abdomen even in those who don’t have dramatic weight loss. The decreased amount of fat in the abdomen reduces insulin levels that might otherwise promote the growth of cancer cells. See:


Q: What can I do to improve my chances of success when starting an exercise program?

A: Work with your healthcare provider to understand any limitations that you might have and to determine the level of exercise that is appropriate for your specific situation.  Having realistic goals about what you can do and how quickly you can increase your activity will help you be successful.

It’s also very important to find a type of exercise you like and that is easily accessible to you. Getting started each day is the hardest step, so make that part as easy as you can by choosing something you can do for a few minutes at a time, if necessary.  If you can do an activity for 30 days in a row, it is likely to become a habit, and you’ll find it much easier to continue.

You will have better success if you exercise with someone else or if are accountable to someone else in maintaining your program.  Start a walking partnership with a friend or family member.  Walking a dog is another great way to be accountable.  You can be sure that your dog will eagerly await your daily walks. See: