Brisk walking may cut the risk of dying from cancer, even in more advanced stages of the disease, research suggests.
Two new studies presented at the world’s biggest cancer conference show that exercise could be a powerful tool, helping to slow down the disease and cut the risk of death.
Just 25 minutes a day of brisk walking is enough to drive improvements, the research suggests.
Following a healthy diet with five portions a day of fruit and vegetables and eating whole grains was also shown to help.
The research, presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference in Chicago, involved patients with bowel and breast cancer.
In the first study, 337 women newly-diagnosed with breast cancer who had undergone surgery to remove tumours were split into two groups. For eight months, one group was told to follow an exercise programme of 180 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise. The second group received standard care.
Over a typical follow-up of eight years, the results showed that exercise had “clear potential to influence survival”.
Those in the exercise group were around half as likely to die as those in the usual care group and less likely to have their disease progress, the study, which has not yet been published in a journal, suggested.
Sandra Haye, senior research fellow at the Queensland University of Technology, who conducted the study, said studies on other cancers, such as bowel and prostate cancer, have also shown a beneficial effect of exercise.
“Engaging in some activity or exercise is better than none, and doing more is generally better than less,” she said.
In the second study, 992 people with stage three bowel cancer that had begun to spread were assessed twice over seven years for diet and lifestyle.
Researchers looked at how closely people followed American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and exercise for people with cancer.
The guidelines recommend patients keep to a healthy weight, exercise at a moderate-intensity level for 150 minutes per week and eat healthy food. Processed and red meat should be limited, while people should aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables per day and a diet rich in whole grains.
The study found that compared to those people who adhered least to the guidelines, those who followed them closely had a 42 per cent lower risk of dying and a trend towards better disease-free survival.