Regular exercise helps with chemo side effects, study finds

New research conducted by The Ottawa Hospital shows that cardiovascular exercise helps chemotherapy patients manage their symptoms.

The Ottawa Hospital says a 1 hour workout 3 times a week helps manage chemotherapy side effects

New research conducted by The Ottawa Hospital shows that cardiovascular exercise helps chemotherapy patients manage their symptoms.

Andrea Grossman-Cook, who is recovering from breast cancer, takes medication and also walks and runs.

Andrea Grossman-Cook says regular cardiovascular exercise helped her manage the side effects of chemotherapy. (CBC)

She took part in a three-year national clinical trial to find out what types of exercise — and how much of it — can help calm the side effects of chemotherapy. 

"The one thing that got me through the chemo was the positive feelings that it gave me from exercising," she said.

An hour of exercise three times a week shown to help

The multi-city study involved 300 patients from 2008-2011, 90 of whom were in Ottawa.

Participants were split into three groups: one given a "standard dose" of 30 minutes of aerobics three times a week, the second given a "higher dose" of 60 minutes three times a week and the third a "combined dose" involving 60 minutes of cardio and strength training three times a week.

The study found that patients with breast cancer who did an hour of exercise three times a week felt the best. 

"They feel better. They are less fatigued. They have better control of the night sweats and hot flashes," said Dr. Roanne Segel, one of the study's authors.

Dr. Mark Clemons, a cancer researcher at The Ottawa Hospital, said he's prescribing exercise to patients with other types of cancer. 

"This is a magnificent, practice-changing study," he said.

"Many patients do not want to take more drugs to avoid side effects of treatment. So we now have a cheap option to offer them that we know will reduce their side effects."

Grossman-Cook said her fitness level stayed the same throughout her chemotherapy.

"It kept me strong, it kept my mind positive, it kept my fatigue at bay. It helped with that a lot. It just made me feel I was normal," she said.

The study found that even lighter exercise also helps curb the side effects.

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