Feasibility, Safety, and Preliminary Efficacy of Very Low-Volume Interval Training in Advanced Cancer Patients

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2022 Nov 1;54(11):1817-1830. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002989. Epub 2022 Jul 8.


Purpose: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to improve cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and health-related outcomes in various chronic diseases, including cancer. However, data on feasibility and efficacy of HIIT in advanced cancer patients are still sparse, presumably because of safety concerns, like suspected immunosuppression after vigorous exercise. This randomized, sham-intervention controlled study aimed to investigate feasibility, safety, and preliminary efficacy of very low-volume HIIT (LOW-HIIT) in advanced cancer patients.

Methods: Twenty-seven patients (55.4 ± 13.2 yr) with different advanced cancers (Union for International Cancer Control [UICC] III/IV) were randomly allocated to LOW-HIIT ( n = 13), consisting of 5 × 1 min cycle ergometer intervals (14 min per session total duration) at 80% to 95% HR peak (two sessions per week for 12 wk), or a sham intervention ( n = 14) performing light physical mobilization exercises (SHAM). Primary outcomes were attrition and attendance rates, with values of ≤25% and ≥80%, respectively, considered acceptable. Secondary outcomes were safety, protocol fidelity, physiological (including CRF measures) and patient-reported outcomes (including fatigue and quality of life).

Results: One of 13 patients (8%) receiving LOW-HIIT dropped out. Mean attendance rate was ~93%. The prescribed minimum exercise intensity was consistently reached by all patients. Low-volume HIIT was well tolerated and not associated with any serious adverse event nor with increased infection susceptibility. There were no biochemical signs of acute immunosuppression after LOW-HIIT. Contrarily, differentiation and degranulation of natural killer cells was acutely increased postexercise. Low-volume HIIT improved CRF measures including peak oxygen uptake, self-reported fatigue, physical, and social functioning. No significant changes occurred in the SHAM group.

Conclusions: Low-volume HIIT can be regarded as feasible and safe in advanced cancer patients. Our preliminary data indicate favorable acute effects on NK-cells and beneficial chronic adaptations in CRF, fatigue, and aspects of quality of life.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT04065815.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cardiorespiratory Fitness* / physiology
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Feasibility Studies
  • High-Intensity Interval Training* / methods
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / complications
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Oxygen
  • Quality of Life
  • Water-Electrolyte Imbalance*


  • Oxygen

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT04065815