Exercise & Cancer: The “Why”, “What” & “How”

By : on : 13/06/2019 comments : (Comments Off on Exercise & Cancer: The “Why”, “What” & “How”)

The “Why”

The idea that exercise is good for us is unlikely to be ground-breaking news for anyone. Yet as you may already know, recent research suggests that there are a lot of additional benefits for people with cancer, and the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia strongly supports the role of exercise as a “prescription” and part of your care.

We know that exercise can reduce cancer-related tiredness, make treatment side effects more bearable, improve mood, lower stress levels and improve quality of life. There are also studies showing that regular exercisers have a lower risk of developing a new cancer and lower risk of dying from their cancer. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? 

The “What”

So, how much is enough? From what we know, people with cancer should try to avoid being inactive (even though you may desperately want to be!) and try to return to your usual level of movement as soon as you can.

The ideal is to be working towards doing about 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week (e.g. walking, slow swimming or cycling) or about half that time doing more vigorous exercise (fast walking, jogging etc). In a perfect world, we should also be working towards two or three sessions of lifting weights or doing body weight exercises each week too.

The “How”

If seeing how much exercise is recommended looked completely overwhelming, rest assured, you are not alone! We know that most people unfortunately don’t get close to these recommendations. But here are some ideas about how you can get started:  

  1. Start small

As with eating vegetables, drinking water and going on holidays, anything is better than nothing. If you are currently doing no exercise, one long walk a week is a huge improvement.  If you are already managing a few walks, adding in some weight bearing exercises is a great start. Think progress – not perfection. Using a step counter on your phone, and APP or smartwatch can show you the improvements you are making over time. Even taking a ten minute phone call when walking may add 1000 steps!

  • The marvel of mornings

Have you ever noticed that afternoon or evening exercise is hard to make happen? Work, appointments, fatigue and life tend to get in the way. And when they don’t, our brain has a sneaky way of talking us out of our exercise plans. Many people find that exercising in the morning works better, which can help to get you into a routine and build your confidence with it. Get your exercise clothes or exercise shoes the night before so you can put them straight on!

  • Set a goal

Your goal might be a certain number of steps each day, or to complete a walking or running event, or to cycle or hike a particular route. This means that if your motivation starts to waver (or it isn’t really there to start with) you can keep your goal in sight to inspire you.

  • Make a commitment

Similar to setting a goal, making a commitment can help to keep you motivated and accountable. This might be a financial commitment (a gym membership or personal training sessions) or joining a walking group, sports team or dance class. Whatever interests you! Plan it in your day and week and tell people you are doing it!  Reward yourself (maybe without chocolate!) and recognize your achievements.

  • Recruit others

Involving friends and family members are a great way to keep us accountable and engaged. It can also be a good way to feel supported and connected with others throughout your cancer journey and beyond.

There are great exercise specialists and physiotherapists who can help to get you started safely. A number of services have a special interest in cancer rehabilitation, and examples in Sydney include CancerFit, and The Exercise Clinic Ask your treating team about options and supports close to you.

These recommendations have been based on the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia’s Position Statement on Exercise in Cancer Care. You can access the full statement here:



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