The role of health and fitness is already recognised in helping people avoid coronary troubles, while starting a structured exercise programme after a heart attack can help sufferers recover faster and shorten the odds of them having another one.
Now, evidence is emerging that the same holds true for those with cancer. Dr Anna Campbell, lecturer in clinical exercise science at Dundee University, has studied the benefits of exercise on cancer patients since 2000, when she discovered there had been very little research on the area.
She will outline her own and other research into cancer and exercise this weekend as part of Dundee University's Saturday Evening Lecture series.
Dr Campbell, 52, who is based at Dundee University's Institute of Sport and Exercise (ISE), said she started studying breast cancer patients in Glasgow in 2000. She said: "We took 200 ladies who had breast cancer and put 100 of them on an exercise programme. We followed their outcomes for five years after the study and what we found was quite amazing."
Her study found the cancer patients who exercised were not only fitter, but were also more mentally positive with a better outlook on life.
They experienced less tiredness and fatigue, said they had a better quality of life and had fewer problems that caused them to go back to their GP.
Dr Campbell added: "Even five years later the ones who exercised were still feeling the physical and psychological benefits."
At the same time as Dr Campbell was conducting her study, researchers in the US began investigating the benefits of activity on other types of cancer.
She said: "There have been studies done into breast, colo-rectal and prostate cancer, and they all found that being active reduces the chances of dying and reduces the chances of the cancer coming back by about 30%."
Dr Campbell's research is yet to inform standard medical advice, and cancer suffers are still often told to rest. However, changes are starting to occur and Dundee University has recently become one of the first places in UK where people with cancer can get safe, effective exercise programmes tailored to their specific needs.
Dr Campbell is currently the only person in Britain licensed to teach fitness instructors how to deliver exercise programmes to cancer sufferers and survivors, and travels the UK to deliver training courses.
She said: "We're telling people they should aim to do half an hour of moderate exercise – which leaves them slightly breathless and slightly hot but not gasping – five days a week to experience a benefit.
"If you feel washed-up and exhausted – maybe if you've been for chemo or radiotherapy – and don't feel like exercising for a couple of days, don't beat yourself up about it."
Evidence is beginning to suggest that more vigorous exercise delivers even greater protection. "A lot of the research is still ongoing but it already suggests that people who exercise strenuously do reap greater benefits."
Meanwhile, Elaine Rankin, consultant and Professor of Medical Oncology has retired from NHS Tayside after 13 years service. Ms Rankin was the UK's first female professor of cancer medicine.
l Dr Campbell's talk – Rest is not best: cancer survival through active living – takes place at Dundee University's Dalhousie Building, Old Hawkhill, at 6pm this Saturday.