OMAHA — Studies on cancer patients from Iowa and Nebraska who are undergoing chemotherapy find there are great benefits from low-intensity exercise.

Creighton University Professor Eric Bredahl, in the department of exercise science, says even moderate physical activity can help slow tumor growth, while reducing damage to the heart that happens during chemotherapy.

“The risk of dying from heart failure becomes greater with each round of chemotherapy,” Bredahl says. “By using exercise and trying to understand those adaptations, we can then employ that exercise prior to, during or even after chemotherapy to preserve or attenuate that decline in cardiac tissue.”

Researchers say even low impact exercise, such as walking and doing yoga, can make a noticeable difference.  “When people go through chemo, they often have a number of side effects that decrease their quality of life. They can’t eat, they feel lethargic, they feel fatigued, their muscles become weaker,” Bredahl says. “If we add resistance training in, we know they eat more, so they maintain a greater capacity to perform their activities of daily living, they feel better.”

An exercise regimen isn’t possible for all patients undergoing chemo, which is why Bredahl plans to take research a step further. “There’s still a number of cancer patients who, due to physical limitations, core morbidities, can’t exercise. What can we do to improve their quality of life?” Bredahl says. “We’re trying to look at different compounds that can be given concurrently with chemotherapy to try to minimize the damage to healthy tissue.”

The research finds exercise can decrease the chance of major issues during chemotherapy and will eventually lead to a greater health outcome, as the side effects of chemo become less apparent.