Adolescents and young adults who survived cancer diagnosed in early childhood struggle to meet physical activity guidelines

Getting enough physical activity is important for all survivors to help maintain their health

Published: 8/1/2018

Two girls sit on a couch playing with their phones

A new LTFU research study has revealed that adolescents and young adults who survived cancer diagnosed in early childhood are not getting enough physical activity to benefit their health (see below for physical activity guidelines). This is important because we know that exercise can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as the risk of some cancers – particularly colon and breast cancer. Exercise has also been shown to strengthen bones, help you maintain a healthy weight, and improve your mental health.

Dr. Katie Devine of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey led an effort to understand the factors linked to low levels of physical activity. Her team looked at survey responses of 303 survivors diagnosed with cancer before age four who responded to an adolescent health survey. Two hundred forty-eight of these survivors also responded years later to a follow-up survey, so they provided information on their physical activity as adolescents and then as young adults. Because of this, the researchers were able to look at changes in physical activity over time. They found that 46 percent – almost half – of the adolescents did not get enough physical activity. Nearly one quarter of the adolescents remained insufficiently active as young adults.

The adolescent survivors who were most likely not to get enough physical activity included:

  • Those who spent a lot of time watching TV or videos
  • Those who had health problems that limited their ability to be active

Poor diet and low self-esteem during adolescence were linked to low activity levels in young adulthood.

What does this mean for you?

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that we get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate activity such as brisk walking. This can be done in just 30 minutes a day on five days of the week. And even 10 minutes of exercise can help you achieve the goal. The CDC also recommends that we do muscle-strengthening exercises on two or more days each week.

Like everyone, childhood cancer survivors, including people with chronic health or mobility challenges, can get important health benefits from regular physical activity. For some individuals exercises may need to be adapted to their ability level. Before starting on any new physical activities, it’s important for all survivors to check with their doctor about the types and amounts of activity that are safe and appropriate for them.


Devine KA, Mertens AC, Whitton JA, et al. Factors associated with physical activity among adolescent and young adult survivors of early childhood cancer: A report from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS). Psychooncology. 2018 Feb;27(2):613-619.