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Exercise and Lung Cancer

Role in Prevention and Survival


Updated June 06, 2014

Woman planting flowers in her backyard
Musketeer/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Can exercise help treat or even prevent lung cancer? It’s hard not to hear about the benefits of exercise these days. Open a magazine, turn on the TV, or watch runners on the sidewalk as you drive by -- it is clear that we are paying attention to fitness. Lung cancer is no exception. Being physically active not only helps prevent lung cancer in the first place, but it appears to improve survival and quality of life for those already diagnosed, according to a 2007 study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research's Sixth Annual International Conference on Cancer Prevention.

Prevention of Lung Cancer

The study found that physical activity is linked with a lower risk of developing lung cancer. And the benefit extends to everyone; men and women, as well as those who were smokers, former smokers, or had never touched a cigarette, all benefited from exercise. And, the activities evaluated did not require hours a day or a pricey health club membership. Even gardening two times a week was associated with a reduced risk.

Improved Survival for Those Who Have Lung Cancer

For both sexes, exercise reduced the risk of death from lung cancer, although the benefits seem greater in women.

Improved Quality of Life

Physical activity appears to improve quality of life for those with cancer in general. It also has been found to decrease cancer-related fatigue, one of the most distressing symptoms for many with cancer.

Tips for Adding Physical Activity to Your Day

As noted, the amount of physical activity needed to reduce the risk of lung cancer, and improve survival and quality of life in those with cancer, can be as simple as gardening a few times per week. Too many of us fail in our intentions to exercise because we set our goals too high. This can be harder yet for those dealing with the fatigue of cancer.

What are a few simple things we can do to add physical activity to our days?

  • Plant a garden
  • Dance to the radio
  • Sign up for a yoga class. Yoga also appears to increase natural killer cells (a type of white blood cell) that feast on cancer cells.
  • Purchase a pedometer, and set a goal of a certain number of steps daily
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Park as far as possible from your destination
  • Walk around an art gallery or museum

Kubic, A. et al. A case-control study of lifestyle and lung cancer associations by histological types. Neoplasma. 2008. 55(3):192-99.

Blanchard, C. et al. Cancer survivors' adherence to lifestyle behavior recommendations and associations with health-related quality of life: results from the American Cancer Society's SCS-II. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2008. May 1;26(13):2198-204.

Cramp, F. and J. Daniel. Exercise for the management of cancer-related fatigue in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008. 2008. Apr 16;(2):CD006145.

Forman, M. Diet and physical activity in lung cancer risk prediction for current, former, and never smokers. 2007. AACR Meeting Abstracts Online.

Kubic, A. et al. Interactions between smoking and other exposures associated with lung cancer risk in women: diet and physical activity. Neoplasma. 2007;54(1):83-8.

Alfano, C. et al. Physical activity in relation to all-site and lung cancer incidence and mortality in current and former smokers. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention. 2004. Dec;13(12):2233-41.

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