According to a new study presented at the American Society of Haematology annual meeting, increasing physical activity helps lymphoma patients live longer. Previous studies reported that although the lymphoma patients were advised to do exercise, an impact of physical activity on them was not identified. To investigate, the researchers enrolled lymphoma patients (n=4,087) within nine months of diagnosis.

The information on patients' usual physical activity before lymphoma diagnosis was collected and followed up with them three years later to calculate a Godin Leisure Score Index (LSI), a physical activity score that has been validated for measuring such activity in cancer patients. The team found that the patients reporting a high level of physical activity before a lymphoma diagnosis had significantly improved overall and lymphoma-specific survival compared to those who were less physically active.

Also, patients who increased their level of physical activity after their lymphoma diagnosis (at three-year follow-up) had significantly better overall survival and lymphoma-specific survival compared to less physically active patients. Patients who reported a drop-off in activity level three years after diagnosis had worse overall survival and lymphoma-specific survival compared to those who did not report a change, the researchers said.

The team looked at the data based on the recommendation that cancer survivors get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week and, also, two broad categories of active versus inactive and found that patients who are active do better. “It is important to encourage physical activity in lymphoma patients, even those who are finished with their treatment and are still being monitored on a regular basis,” Dr. Pophali said.

Study co-author Dr. Carrie Thompson said that exercise improves survival in the general population because of cardiovascular health, and there has been a link between exercise and improved survival in other cancers, such as breast cancer. However, it has never been shown in lymphoma that physical activity improves survival.

Patients are very anxious when treatment ends and want to know what they can do. Physical activity is something under a patient's control and giving that control back after something that feels very overwhelming, and out of control is important, said Dr. Thompson. In conclusion, the study revealed that increased level of physical activity significantly better overall survival and lymphoma-specific survival.