Karen E. Effinger, MD, MS
We all know that physical activity and exercise are good for our health, but it’s especially important for childhood cancer survivors. Research has shown that adult survivors of childhood cancer who get regular vigorous exercise have better long-term health and live longer than those who don’t. Some survivors are at risk for heart disease, and studies have shown that these survivors can decrease their risk by performing aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise, also known as “cardio,” includes activities like walking fast, dancing, swimming, running, and cycling. Studies have also shown that physical activity helps mood, concentration and memory in all survivors.
The American Cancer Society and American Heart Association provide age-based recommendations for physical activity.
Preschoolers (ages 3-5)
- 3 hours of active play per day
- Replace sitting activities with play
Kids/Teens (ages 6-17)
- 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity
- Vigorous activity at least 3 days per week
- Muscle and bone-strengthening activities at least 3 days per week
Adults (age 18+)
- 150 minutes per week (30 minutes, 5 days per week) of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a combination of both
- Muscle and bone-strengthening activities at least 2 days per week
- Spend less time sitting
Survivors should follow these guidelines in order to improve their overall health. Strength training should include all muscle groups and should not exceed 2-3 times per week. For survivors who received treatment that may impact their heart, weightlifting should be limited. Survivors at risk for heart disease who would like to perform more intense exercise should be evaluated by a cardiologist first.
Tips for increasing exercise include:
- Start out slow – don’t try activities that are too hard or not interesting
- Pick activities you like
- Find a friend or family member to do activities with
- Alternate exercises to work different muscles
- Instead of the elevator, take the stairs
- Walk down the hall or march in place when a commercial comes on tv
- Turn the screen into an exercise machine through exercise or activity videos
- Take a brain break before homework to help with focus
- Remember: Some is better than none!
Research has shown that active kids, teens, and young adults have better quality of life, heart health, lung health, bone health, attention, memory, school performance, and sleep. Exercise also decreases risk for chronic medical conditions (like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol), obesity, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Survivors are encouraged to get as much physical activity as possible.