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Study: Exercise Can Be Powerful Medicine For Cancer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - In some ways, it's the last thing a cancer patient expects to hear from their doctor: Get out and exercise.

But a new study finds it may be a perfect prescription to stay healthy.

It could be some light weight or resistance training, or maybe Pilates to help strengthen the core and keep everything aligned.

"I was diagnosed a year ago. Since then I've had a lumpectomy, chemo, radiation and hormone therapy," said breast cancer survivor Emily Spiegelman-Noel.

"I was diagnosed two years ago with stage 4 lung cancer with metastises to the bone," said lung cancer patient Ronna Lewis.

Both Emily and Ronna are in the forefront of a new addition to cancer therapy - physical activity - what most people would call "exercise." It's because cancer patients and survivors generally report decreased quality of life.

"Higher pain scores, more fatigue, overall less ability to physically function," said Dr. Jonas Sokolof, director of cancer rehabilitation at NYU Langone Health.

It's a problem that even Emily, who was a fitness enthusiast, has experienced.

"I have a lot of chronic bone, muscle, joint pain," she said. "I literally can feel the shape of my bones because it hurts, it hurts to get up from this chair."

Dr. Sokolof, along with a number of colleagues from around the U.S. and Europe, have published a controlled study demonstrating that exercise can be a powerful medicine for cancer.

"Exercise can help prevent seven different types of cancers, can help improve survival in several cancers, and can help improve health-related outcomes as it relates to the disease itself," Sokolof said.

Not to mention improve fatigue, depression, overall physical functioning and even sleep.

Ronna says her exercise prescription is what keeps her mobile.

"I get in the morning and can't move very well. I have a lot of pain. Once I exercise, the pain lets up a little bit and I'm able to move," she said.

So if there's a prescription for exercise, will insurance pay for your personal trainer? Unfortunately, no. Some plans may subsidize a gym membership or may pay for physical therapy or supervised exercise while in rehab, but otherwise, you're on your own.

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