Physical activity and exercise in adults diagnosed with primary brain cancer: a systematic review

J Neurooncol. 2021 May;153(1):1-14. doi: 10.1007/s11060-021-03745-3. Epub 2021 Apr 28.


Purpose: The aims of this systematic review were to: (1) describe physical activity (PA) levels following diagnosis of primary brain cancer, (2) determine the relationship between PA levels and health outcomes, and (3) assess the effect of participating in an exercise intervention on health outcomes following a diagnosis of brain cancer.

Methods: PubMed, EMBASE, Scopus and CINAHL were searched for relevant articles published prior to May 1, 2020. Studies reporting levels of PA, the relationship between PA and health outcomes, and exercise interventions conducted in adults with brain cancer were eligible. The search strategy included terms relating to primary brain cancer, physical activity, and exercise. Two independent reviewers assessed articles for eligibility and methodological quality (according to Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal Tools). Descriptive statistics were used to present relevant data and outcomes.

Results: 15 studies were eligible for inclusion. Most adults with brain cancer were insufficiently active from diagnosis through to post-treatment. Higher levels of PA were associated with lower severity of brain cancer specific concerns and higher quality of life. Preliminary evidence suggests that exercise is safe, feasible and potentially beneficial to brain cancer symptom severity and interference, aerobic capacity, body composition and PA levels. However, the level of evidence to support these findings is graded as weak.

Conclusions: Evidence suggests that it is likely appropriate to promote those with brain cancer to be as physically active as possible. The need or ability of those with brain cancer to meet current PA guidelines promoted to all people with cancer remains unclear.

Keywords: Brain cancer; Exercise; Glioblastoma; Intervention; Physical activity; Survivorship.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life*