Exercise & Cancer Prevention/Rehabilitation

Did you know that cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Australia? According to the latest research, one in two Australian men and women will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 85! For those going through cancer treatment or recovering from treatment, the last thing they may be thinking about is exercise. But what if we told you that participating in exercise before, during and after treatment, can improve the adverse physical and psychological effects associated with cancer?

The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA), is the peak national body encompassing health professionals working in cancer research, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care. COSA recommends exercise be embedded within standard care and utilised as adjunct therapy for those undergoing cancer treatment. Contrary to the beliefs of many, research has shown that exercise or physical activity is a safe and effective intervention throughout the various stages of cancer treatment. The good news, even if you were not active prior to your diagnosis, you can still reap the benefits! So what are the benefits of exercise and how can it preserve/improve and reduce various aspects of an individual’s life?

Preserve or improve:

  • Muscle mass, strength, power
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Physical function
  • Physical activity levels
  • Range of motion
  • Immune function
  • Chemotherapy completion rates/adherence rates
  • Body image, self esteem, mood
  • Bone health
  • Energy levels and quality of life


  • Treatment related side effects: nausea, fatigue, pain, lymphoedema
  • Intensity and number of symptoms reported
  • Duration of hospitalisation
  • Psychological and emotional stress
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Risk of cancer recurrence and mortality
  • Risk of comorbidities: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis

What type of exercise is best and how much should you be doing?

Guidelines state individual’s should progress towards and once achieved, maintain 150minutes of moderate or 75minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity each week. Furthermore, to help maintain muscle mass, resistance training (think weights) should also be completed 2-3 times per week. But the most important thing is to start! Find something that you enjoy or have always wanted to do and get out there and give it a go. Research shows that individuals who remain active throughout their treatment, experience fewer adverse effects and improve long term health outcomes. It is also important to remember that if you are new to an exercise program, start out slow and gradually increase or seek the guidance from our friendly Physiotherapists or Exercise Physiologist.

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