Exercise Just Takes a Few Minutes

Cancer patients benefit from light physical activity most days of the week

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Some say it's 30 minutes of exercise twice or thrice weekly to see benefits. Others say it's 20 minutes done more often. For cancer patients who may be short on time or lack the energy, just a few minutes a day can help.

Walking and lightweight training at least four days a week can help cancer patients move and sleep better, according to a new study.

Researchers said that even a minimal workout benefits patients, no matter what stage of cancer they have.

"Combine a little cardio and strength training daily."

Researchers, led by Andrea Cheville, MD, of the Mayo Clinic Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, aimed to see how well a home-based exercise program that requires very little time helped cancer patients during treatment and recovery.

The study included 66 adults with Stage IV colorectal or lung cancer. Half learned an exercise program called Rapid, Easy, Strength Training, or REST, which instructs them to do strength training and walking at home. The other half just received normal care.

Those in the exercise group worked out at least four days a week after learning the program in a single therapy session. Researchers tracked their progress over the phone and increased their training and step counts twice a month.

Participants wore a pedometer and used resistance bands for weighted exercise. Researchers said the workout only takes a few minutes and has very little cost. The patients ranked how well they were able to sleep, level of pain, ability to do daily activities and quality of life.

Two months after starting the program, the exercise group was more mobile, less tired and slept better compared to the other group with the normal care. The level of pain was not affected by exercise.

By the end of the study, three of the participants had dropped and seven died. Five had been in the exercise group and the rest in the normal care group.

"We talk a lot about how important it is for cancer patients to exercise, but until now, nobody has questioned whether less may be more for patients negotiating the demands of cancer treatment," Dr. Cheville said in a press release. "This was the first trial to investigate what's feasible and helpful for patients with limited time and energy."

As muscle typically weakens because of cancer and how it's treated, Dr. Cheville said the program helps preserve muscle mass so patients " have the reserves necessary to ensure that their bodies heal."

The National Institutes of Health funded the study, which was published online September 26 in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. Funding information was not available at the time of publication.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 15, 2012
Last Updated:
July 5, 2013