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In this article we explore both the benefits of exercise to prevent certain types of cancer, as well as the benefits of exercise to people who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Traditionally, people who were newly diagnosed with cancer were told to stay in bed and get as much rest as possible. However, current research has established that there are significant benefits to exercising before, during and after cancer treatment. Therefore, it is crucial to educate cancer patients about the importance of exercise before, during and after cancer treatment.

There is recent evidence showing regular exercise can not only decrease your risk of developing certain cancers, but can help manage the varying symptoms associated with cancer treatment and decrease risk of reoccurrence. So, which cancers can you decrease your risk for, how can exercise help during treatment and how much exercise should you be doing to receive these benefits? Read on!


Does exercise prevent cancer?

There is evidence to suggest a causal link between higher levels of physical activity and decreased risk of being diagnosed with the following types of cancer:

  • breast cancer

  • prostate cancer

  • stomach (gastric) cancer

  • colon cancer

  • endometrial cancer

  • oesophageal cancer

  • bladder cancer

  • kidney cancer

The research conducted over the last 10 years suggest that being physically active can decrease your risk of developing some of these cancers by as much as 23%.

How Does Exercise Reduce Your Risk of Cancer?

Whilst the exact mechanism responsible for decreasing your risk of cancer through exercise is still being researched, some of the proposed reasons include:

  • Reducing inflammation

  • Improving immune system function

  • Lowering levels of sex hormones, including estrogen

  • Growth factors that are associated with development of breast & colon cancers

  • Preventing higher levels of blood insulin, which have been associated with development and progression of breast & colon cancers

  • Reducing the time required for food to travel through the gastrointestinal tract, which decreases time exposed to carcinogens.

  • Helping to prevent obesity, which increases risk for many cancers.


It is easy to see how exercise can improve our overall health and reduce our risk of getting cancer, however it is more difficult to understand how exercise is beneficial after receiving a cancer diagnosis.

Is it safe to exercise after a cancer diagnosis and following treatment?

The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) released an official position statement in 2018 to recommend and encourage exercise therapy to be a standard practise of care within a patient’s cancer journey. Their statement encourages:

  • Exercise to be embedded as part of standard practice in cancer care and to be viewed as an adjunct therapy that helps counteract the adverse effects of cancer and its treatment.

  • All members of the multidisciplinary cancer team to promote physical activity and recommend people with cancer to adhere to exercise guidelines.

  • Best practice cancer care to include referral to an exercise physiologist and/or physiotherapist with experience in cancer care.

Is exercise good for cancer patients?

Whilst exercise may not cure your cancer diagnosis, it can help you to stay strong, mobile, and functional throughout and after your treatment. The research shows that exercise can help to:

  • Improve physical function - including aerobic fitness, muscular strength and functional ability

  • Reduce cancer-related fatigue

  • Ease psychological distress

  • Improve overall quality of life

  • Decrease the severity of treatment related side effects

  • Reduce the risk of developing any further cancers

  • Reduce the risk of developing other comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or osteoporosis

Clinical research has supported the importance of regular exercise, not only for your physical function, but also to improve the psychological and mental health effects of cancer and its treatment. There is evidence to support an improvement with fatigue, anxiety and depressive symptoms, which lead to an improvement in quality of life, when implementing a regular exercise routine throughout the week. Chemo and exercise are an important part of your recovery.

There are many studies currently being undertaken to continue to explore the benefits of exercise with cancer patients, which is bringing optimism and hope to people living with cancer.

How much exercise should you be doing?

The guidelines encourage people with cancer to get back into exercising as soon as possible following diagnosis. It is encouraged that you slowly progress towards and then maintain:

  • 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming, cycling, jogging each week.


  • 2-3 resistance/strength-based exercise sessions each week involving moderate to vigorous intensity exercise to target all major muscle groups, including yoga.

These exercises should all be adjusted and modified according to an individual’s ability, treatment plan and current health status. To maximise safety and therapeutic effect it is recommended that patients seek professional guidance from an Exercise Physiologist and/or Physiotherapist to educate, prescribe and eventually guide into self-managed exercise.

Want to know more?

Read our previous article about exercise and cancer, including what types of exercise are most beneficial. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer please call us on 5456 1599 for guidance on an appropriate exercise plan. We have a team of caring exercise physiologists on the Sunshine Coast who are qualified to provide a customised plan at all stages of your cancer journey. Whether you need a plan for exercise during radiation therapy and chemo or a post chemo exercise plan, we can help you. We operate in clinics from Caloundra to Warana and Noosa to Gympie and Tin Can Bay. We also offer home visits.

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