Movement is medicine

April 12, 2022

Movement is medicine

Maybe you have heard this saying before: ‘movement is medicine’. But is this true?

If we take a look at a strict definition of medicine,  it refers to the practices and procedures used for the prevention, treatment, or relief of symptoms of diseases or abnormal conditions. This term may also refer to a legal drug used for the same purpose.

So it can prevent, treat or relieve symptoms. And yes, in fact, physical activity can do all those three things.

The evidence of the role of physical activity in the prevention of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes type 2 and cancer is clear. Additionally, new research indicates that physical activity might have a positive impact on the recurrence of cancer. Lastly, when physical activity is part of the management plan, we see an improvement in the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment such as fatigue, anxiety, depression and pain. Around 40% of cancer survivors still experience persistent pain after completing curative treatment. Together with pain neuroscience education, physical activity is the best evidence treatment;

If we could take all the benefits of physical activity and put it in a pill, it probably always will be sold out.

But wait, even better. You don’t even have to go to a pharmacy or a doctor. Physical activity is readily available and is free. Physical activity in healthy individuals is low, a study on sedentary lifestyles across European countries ranged between 43.3% (Sweden) and 87.8% (Portugal). If we look at those with a cancer diagnosis, we see that during treatment levels decline and even after treatment cancer survivors don’t go back to their pre-diagnosis level.

So why are we not all taking our daily dose of this wonder medicine? Engaging in physical activity is challenging.

Everyone can agree that you can take the term: ‘working out’ quite literally. Exercising is a lot of work. And it doesn’t always feel that good when you are walking up a hill, lifting those weights or counting down the minutes in plank position. Barriers also exist on different levels, we have to find the time and resources, we don’t want to tire ourselves even more and we want to know what we are doing.

Cancer patients and survivors also might have additional concerns if it is safe to do exercise and might be more confronted with physical barriers like fatigue or persistent pain. A lot of research is done on the benefits of physical activity for cancer patients and survivors. But less research is done on how to overcome barriers to physical activity.

Therefore, I am looking for some answers and together with my colleagues at Caredon, we started the Pain-DetAct study. We aim to better understand the determinants of physical activity in cancer survivors who experience persistent pain. This understanding will lead us to better support our patients.

So we are looking for Dutch-speaking cancer survivors, who have ended the curative treatment and who experience persistent pain to fill out our survey study.

You can find the link to the study here:



Sophie Van Dijck


Interested in this topic? Read these references:

1.         Schmitz KH. Controlled Physical Activity Trials in Cancer Survivors: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. 2005;14(7):1588-95.

2.         Jack K, McLean SM, Moffett JK, Gardiner E. Barriers to treatment adherence in physiotherapy outpatient clinics: A systematic review. Manual Therapy. 2010;15(3):220-8.

3.         Kampshoff CS, van Mechelen W, Schep G, Nijziel MR, Witlox L, Bosman L, et al. Participation in and adherence to physical exercise after completion of primary cancer treatment. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2016;13(1):100.

4.         Clifford BK, Mizrahi D, Sandler CX, Barry BK, Simar D, Wakefield CE, et al. Barriers and facilitators of exercise experienced by cancer survivors: a mixed methods systematic review. Supportive Care in Cancer. 2018;26(3):685-700.




References in this article:


2.         Varo JJ, Martínez-González MA, De Irala-Estévez J, Kearney J, Gibney M, Martínez JA. Distribution and determinants of sedentary lifestyles in the European Union. Int J Epidemiol. 2003 Feb;32(1):138-46. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyg116. PMID: 12690026

3.         Devoogdt N, Van Kampen M, Geraerts I, Coremans T, Fieuws S, Lefevre J, et al. Physical activity levels after treatment for breast cancer: one-year follow-up. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. 2010;123(2):417-25.

4.         De Groef A, Penen F, Dams L, Van der Gucht E, Nijs J, Meeus M. Best-Evidence Rehabilitation for Chronic Pain Part 2: Pain during and after Cancer Treatment. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2019;8(7):979.