Physical exercise and quality of life following cancer diagnosis: a literature review

Ann Behav Med. 1999 Spring;21(2):171-9. doi: 10.1007/BF02908298.


With almost 8 million Americans alive today who have been through the cancer experience, it is important to develop interventions to maintain quality of life (QOL) following cancer diagnosis. Physical exercise is an intervention that may address the broad range of QOL issues following cancer diagnosis including physical, functional, psychological, emotional, and social well-being. The purpose of the present article was to provide a comprehensive and critical review of the topic and to offer suggestions for future research. The review located 24 empirical studies published between 1980 and 1997. Eighteen of the studies were interventions (i.e. quasi-experimental or experimental) but most of these were preliminary efficacy studies that suffered from the common limitations of such designs. Overall, however, the studies have consistently demonstrated that physical exercise has a positive effect on QOL following cancer diagnosis, including physical and functional well-being (e.g. functional capacity, muscular strength, body composition, nausea, fatigue) and psychological and emotional well-being (e.g. personality functioning, mood states, self-esteem, and QOL). Besides overcoming the limitations of past research, recommendations for future research included: (a) extending the research beyond breast and early-stage cancers; (b) comparing and integrating physical exercise with other QOL interventions; (c) examining resistance exercises, the timing of the intervention, and contextual factors; (d) expanding the breadth of the QOL indicators examined; and (e) investigating the rates and determinants of recruitment and adherence to an exercise program following cancer diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Quality of Life*
  • Research Design