Cancer patients have a lot going on during treatment and afterwards –which can cause ill effects, take an emotional toll and carry the risk of recurrence – so exercise traditionally has not been encouraged.

But a growing body of research has shown that for many patients with certain types of cancer, exercise can be safe and help relieve fatigue, while improving physical function, and quality of life. So, the American College of Sports Medicine put together a taskforce – led by Kathryn Schmitz, a noted expert on exercise and cancer at the University of Pennsylvania – to distill the research and develop guidelines for clinicians and patients.

The taskforce determined that "exercise training is safe during and after cancer treatments and results in improvements in physical functioning, quality of life, and cancer-related fatigue in several cancer survivor groups. … The benefits to physical functioning and quality of life are sufficient for the recommendation that cancer survivors follow the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, with specific exercise programming adaptations based on disease and treatment-related side effects."

Schmitz presented the new recommendations Wednesday June 2 at June 2, at the American College of Sports Medicine's Annual Meeting in Baltimore. And those new guidelines will also be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meetings in Chicago on Sunday, June 6.

"We're seeing better everyday function and overall higher quality of life for cancer survivors who exercise," Schmitz said.

Last summer, Schmitz published a major study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that weightlifting reduces the arm-swelling of lymphedema following breast cancer surgery and radiation. That study reversed decades of advice that patients should avoid lifting anything – their small children or grocery bags – to avoid worsening the symptoms.