Cancer patients who’ve been told to rest and avoid exercise can – and should – find ways to be physically active both during and after treatment, according to new national guidelines.

“We have to get doctors past the ideas that exercise is harmful to their cancer patients. There is a still a prevailing attitude out there that patients shouldn’t push themselves during treatment, but our message – avoid inactivity – is essential,” said Kathryn Schmitz of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

“We now have a compelling body of high quality evidence that exercise during and after treatment is safe and beneficial for these patients, even those undergoing complex procedures such as stem cell transplants," Schmitz said. "If physicians want to avoid doing harm, they need to incorporate these guidelines into their clinical practice in a systematic way.”

Cancer patients and survivors should strive to get the same 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise that is recommended for the general public, according to Schmitz, who is part of a 13-member American College of Sports Medicine expert panel that presented the recommendations.

Though the evidence indicates that most types of physical activity – from swimming to yoga to strength training – are beneficial for cancer patients, clinicians should tailor exercise recommendations to individual patients, taking into account their general fitness level, specific diagnosis and factors about their disease that might influence exercise safety, the panel recommends. Cancer patients with weakened ability to fight infection, for instance, may be advised to avoid exercise in public gyms.

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