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Research shows that renal cell carcinoma (RCC) makes up 90 percent of all kidney cancers, and it’s increasing in recent years worldwide.

The good news is that self-care measures that include daily activity, maintaining weight, eating a nutritious diet, and not smoking can lower the risks associated with kidney cancer and improve overall quality of life.

The benefits of daily exercise have been observed at various stages, from diagnosis through treatment and beyond.

After a diagnosis

Getting a cancer diagnosis can be hard. Worry about the future can affect your emotional health. This in turn affects your energy levels. Incorporating daily activity, though, can have a positive impact.

Physical activity can help lift your mood, usually within as little as 5 minutes after you start exercising. Studies show that exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood. At the same time, it improves self-esteem and cognitive function.

A 2017 review of 100 studies found that patients who exercised following a cancer diagnosis showed a lower risk of mortality and recurrence and reported fewer or less severe adverse effects.

During treatment

There are different types of treatment for RCC. These include:

  • surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy
  • immunotherapy
  • targeted therapy

You and your doctor may decide to use one or several of these options for treatment, depending on your unique needs.

When you begin treatment, you may find that you have less energy than you used to have.

If you have surgery, you may need time to recover before starting an exercise that engages certain muscles or involves lifting. You can discuss with your doctor when and how to safely begin incorporating physical activity into your day.

Sometimes other treatments are used in combination with surgery. During treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, it’s normal to feel fatigue.

Fatigue isn’t just tiredness — it’s more like a tiredness that continues even after a rest. It’s important to listen to your body and get adequate rest, but you can also talk with your doctor about incorporating daily movement into your schedule.

Older research from 2002 followed 52 women who participated in at least 90 minutes of exercise over 3 or more days per week during treatment for breast cancer. Those who engaged in exercise reported less fatigue and emotional distress and better quality of life.

A meta-analysis from 2017 echoed these findings, noting that exercise and psychological interventions were more effective than medications for treating cancer-related fatigue.

You may not be able to follow the same exercise regimen as you were before beginning treatment, but making an effort to work on breathing, stretching, cardio, and strength training can allow for benefits.

You can use the lift that daily exercise gives you to help promote positive mental health and to manage your symptoms.


A study based on data from the U.S. National Health Information Survey showed that consistent exercise affected health outcomes. People who reported doing some sort of physical activity were 50 percent less likely to die of kidney cancer than non-exercisers.

The researchers proposed exercise as a therapy, in conjunction with other types of treatment.

Which type of physical activity should you aim for? A study of 703 kidney cancer survivors showed that exercise programs should target both aerobic and strength exercises.

During the study, researchers wanted to find out how often the combined guidelines of aerobic and strength exercise were met and if people who met them had a better quality of life.

Most of the survivors were men over the age of 65 with an average body mass index of 28.5. They were more than 5 years past their initial diagnosis. Researchers found the following:

  • Only 10.1 percent met both guidelines.
  • 65.1 percent of the participants met neither guideline.
  • 8.8 percent met only the strength training guideline.

Those who met both guidelines experienced better quality of life compared with those who met just one, and meeting at least one guideline was better than none. But very few people actually met the combined guideline.

Finding support is helpful for continuing an exercise program. It may also help to schedule time each day for exercise and experiment to find the activities that you enjoy the most. It’s important to talk with your doctor about which exercises are the best fit for your needs and health.

Aerobic and strength training exercises

Both strength and aerobic training are important for optimal physical fitness. But they affect you in different ways.

Aerobic exercises help your body utilize the oxygen you breathe in. They also strengthen your heart.

Strength training builds your muscles so that you can more easily perform tasks.

The American Cancer Society suggests 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

Look at these lists to see how you can incorporate both types of exercise into your daily routine.

Aerobic training

  • walking
  • hiking in nature
  • jogging
  • exercising on a treadmill or an elliptical machine
  • biking
  • swimming
  • light aerobic workout

Strength training

  • yoga
  • Pilates
  • exercises with light weights or resistance bands
  • gardening, digging, shoveling snow
  • climbing stairs or walking up hills
  • strength exercises such as squats, lunges, and planks

Before you start an exercise program, talk with your doctor to confirm that the routine you have chosen is the best one for you.

You may want to start with a moderate level of exertion (about as much effort as a brisk walk) before you move on to something more strenuous.

Regular physical activity is important for people of all ages and stages of health. Physical activity has benefits in many areas of physical and mental health.

Physical benefits

Engaging in regular physical activity may:

  • protect against many chronic diseases
  • increase immunity
  • lower blood pressure and improve heart health
  • improve joint pain and stiffness
  • improve balance
  • improve blood flow to your legs and lowers the risk of blood clots
  • improve quality of sleep

Mental benefits

Engaging in regular physical activity may also:

  • improve your memory and brain function
  • reduce feelings of anxiety and depression
  • reduce feelings of fatigue
  • improve self-esteem

If you have RCC, pace yourself according to your energy levels on any given day when you engage in physical activity.

Physical activity can help you maintain your physical health and at the same time promote positive mental health, allowing you a better outlook while managing renal cell carcinoma.