By Cord Prettyman, MPT

Kansas State University researchers claim that moderate exercise may make cancer treatments more effective. Brad Behnke, associate professor of exercise physiology and a team of kinesiology researchers have demonstrated that moderate exercise on a regular basis enhances the flow of oxygen to cancerous tumors. This tumor oxygenation helps destroy cancer cells, which the researchers believe will enhance treatments for cancer patients.

According to Behnke, when a tumor has low oxygen, it is often overly aggressive. As a result, hypoxic tumors tend to be resistant to traditional cancer therapies, such as radiation therapy. “If we can increase the efficacy of radiation treatment, then the patient’s prognosis is enhanced,” says Behnke. “Exercise is a type of therapy that benefits multiple systems in the body and may permanently alter the environment within the tumor,” he continued.

The experts at the Mayo Clinic agree calling exercise – “Your secret weapon during cancer treatment” helping improve not just your well-being but your attitude as well. Sara Mansfield, M.S., a certified cancer exercise trainer at Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, says physical activity can help people before, during and after cancer treatment. “Loving family members may be urging a person with a cancer diagnosis to rest,” she says, “but that can lead to a functional decline. Research tells us, in general, it’s better to move more than less.”

Mansfield recommends that any person with cancer first discuss an exercise program with their health care provider. Once you’ve got the green light, start moving. If you’ve been sedentary, start by simply walking. Myriad research studies support exercise during cancer treatment with documented benefits of reduced depression and anxiety, reduced pain and increased energy and strength.

The key to exercise aiding radiation treatments is that it be moderate. Too little exercise may have no effect and too much may have a negative effect shutting down blood flow to the tumor or impairing the immune system in general. Moderate exercise is defined by Behnke as an activity that employs 30 to 60 percent of one’s aerobic capacity. Using age-predicted exercise target heart rate, that formula would be 220 minus your age times 30 percent for the lower range and times 60 percent for the upper. Divide that number by 6 and you have your target heart rate for 10 seconds at your carotid artery or your smart watch will give you a one-minute readout.

For most people that intensity can be accomplished with a brisk walk or a slow jog. The American Cancer Society recommends 30 to 60 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week.

Start slowly and progress moderately. If you’re in treatment or are a cancer survivor who has been sedentary, begin with ten minutes at 30 percent of your target heart rate.

Take the stairs, instead of the elevator. Park your car at the far end of the parking lot when shopping. Buy a pedometer and increase your number of steps daily in small increments. In short, what the K-State research results tell us is you can increase the efficacy of your cancer treatment by simply moving.

That advice reminds me of Professor Matsui in my Biology 101 class at the University of Delaware in 1964. He walked to the blackboard and without saying a word proceeded to write the seven requirements for something to be included in the study of Biology. The very first item was … “Does it Move.” If it doesn’t, then it’s not alive and therefore not included in the study of Biology. To those who are battling the beast and those who are cancer survivors, the message is clear – get moving!


Cord Prettyman is an IDEA Master Personal Trainer with 32-years of personal training experience, who works at the Montana Athletic Club in Bigfork, Montana. He can be reached at the club at 406-837-2582 or directly at 719-761-8592. Email: Website: