Exercise And Cancer – A Vital Partnership


Did you know that exercise can be a potent ally in your battle against cancer?  Maintaining an active lifestyle during and after cancer treatment can significantly improve your overall well-being, reduce treatment-related side effects, and enhance survivorship.

Exercise has a crucial role in optimising your treatment.  In fact, the body of evidence is so strong that exercise is now encouraged as part of standard care in cancer treatment programs, and it is viewed as an important complementary therapy to counteract the negative side effects of treatment.

The benefits of exercise for cancer patients include:

  • Reduce fatigue– gradual, controlled exercise can re-energise your body and lift some of the extreme lethargy, nausea and tiredness associated with cancer treatment.
  • Improve strength/muscle mass– building muscle mass is crucial for enhancing recovery between bouts of treatment, as well as improving long-term health outcomes once treatment has finished.
  • Mood enhancement- Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters, helping you manage stress, anxiety and depression. Exercise endorphins are a potent drug and one worth exploiting.
  • Enhanced Immune Function- regular physical activity can strengthen your immune system, potentially aiding your body’s ability to combat cancer cells.
  • Improved quality of life during and after treatment- those who exercise during cancer treatment experience less emotional distress and better overall mental and physical quality of life.

In Australia in 2020, approximately 1 person was diagnosed with cancer every 4-minutes.  This is a confronting fact.  However, better screening processes and programs, earlier detection and advancements in treatment protocols now mean that the survival rate for those dealing with cancer has increased significantly.

Cancer stats in Australia

  • Estimated 162,163 new cases of cancer in Australia 2022
  • One in two Australian men and women diagnosed with cancer by age 85
  • Most common forms of cancer in Australia are prostate, breast, bowel, melanoma and lung cancer. These 5 cancers account for 60% of all cancers diagnosed in Australia
  • New research has linked regular bouts of intermittent exercise with up to 32% reduced cancer risk.
  • Most people with cancer don’t meet exercise guidelines with 60-70% not reaching aerobic exercise guidelines, and 80-90% not reaching resistance exercise guidelines.

Where do I start, and how much exercise is enough?

Every person’s experience with cancer is different.  Exercise should be programmed with this in mind.  Seek out the help of an Exercise Physiologist or qualified professional experienced in cancer care.  This person will be able to guide and support you through an exercise program that is specific to your needs, recognises your capabilities and capacities, and can be flexible with your treatment cycles.

What type of exercise should I do?

The exercise guidelines for those going through cancer treatment are 150-minutes of cardiovascular activity and two resistance training sessions per week.   In reality, this volume depends solely on you, your treatment plan, chemotherapy cycles and specialist advice.  Be realistic with these guidelines.  On the days you feel good you can push a bit harder or exercise for that little bit longer.  On days you feel horrid, pull back, do something light, have a stretch but be sure to still move your body.

Always remember- some exercise is better than none, and more exercise is better than a little.  Whatever you do, it is the ‘doing’ that will result in you feeling better every time.

Cancer is the very inconvenient curve ball that everyone wants to avoid.  Cancer is no doubt a fight, but a positive attitude and proactive approach goes a long way to improving recovery prospects.  Embracing exercise is a commitment that will make a BIG difference

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