How Exercise Can Support Your Health Before, During, and After Cancer Treatment

Receiving a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment can be a challenging time. Patients and the people who care for them want to do whatever they can for the best possible outcome. Historically, doctors have advised people with cancer to rest during treatment. However, more recent high-quality research suggests that overall, there is a strong case for recommending appropriate exercise to improve health outcomes in people preparing for, undergoing, and recovering from cancer treatment, and its side effects.1

Why is exercise important?

An appropriate exercise program has been shown to have positive effects on the body, mind, and quality of life of people following a cancer diagnosis, regardless of your age, sex, or physical ability.2 Research has shown that exercise can help:

  • Manage the side-effects of radiation and chemotherapy, including reduced physical functioning and fatigue3-5
  • Prevent, reduce, and sometimes reverse the side-effects of hormone therapy6,7
  • Reduce the severity of anxiety and improve mood1,8
  • Reduce fat gain and improve body composition7
  • Improve strength and reduce fatigue and weakness1,3,4
  • Preserve bone mass9
  • Improve balance10
  • Maintain general physical function so that everyday activities are easier to do11-13

Research into the benefits of exercise on cancer therapy is ongoing.

Exercise can have benefits at every stage of your cancer journey

Exercise prior to surgery

Some people may require surgery as part of their cancer treatment. An appropriate exercise program before surgery can help prepare your body for the procedure and assist in a speedy recovery.14 Even brief exercise programs before surgery may be beneficial,14,15 so it’s never too soon to ask your doctor about exercise.

Exercise during treatment

Therapies used to treat cancer may come with side effects. Incorporating an appropriate exercise program into your therapy can help minimise side effects and improve your overall well-being.1,3-5

Exercise after treatment

After treatment, exercise can help to restore muscle mass, strength and improve physical function and cardiovascular capacity1,11-13 – all factors that may be adversely affected during cancer treatment. Exercise may also help with some of the later and longer-term effects of cancer treatment and help promote your long-term functioning, health, and survival.16,17

What is an appropriate cancer therapy exercise program?

Considerable research and clinical evidence has established that exercise may be beneficial for people with cancer; however, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.15 Every person’s circumstances are unique, and these should be taken into account. Tailored exercise programs supervised by an exercise professional have been shown to provide benefits for cancer patients.18

Who should I talk to about an exercise program that is right for me?

Your cancer care team including your oncologists, nurses, and general practitioners are a great source of reliable information. They know your individual health needs and understand the impact of exercise on cancer treatment outcomes. They may recommend you speak to an AEP (Accredited Exercise Physiologist). AEPs gain their accreditation through Exercise and Sport Science Australia – the national governing body for exercise professionals.

An AEP may:

  • assess your individual circumstances and exercise needs
  • create a personalised exercise program suitable for you
  • explain the program to you and demonstrate the exercises and equipment
  • monitor your progress and consult with your care team about how you are going, and
  • provide you with further assistance after treatment is finished, like helping you learn how to exercise at home or in the gym.

So, regardless of where you are in your cancer journey, it’s never too late to speak to your care team about the benefits of a personalised exercise program and receive the expert exercise advice that is right for you.


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