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Cancer is developed when abnormal cell function occurs. Cancerous cells can develop within all parts of the body and can invade surrounding and distant sites by spreading through the blood vessels and lymphatic systems. If diagnosis and treatment are not administered in the early stages of the disease, cancer can be life-threatening.

In this article we explore how a person who has been diagnosed with cancer will benefit from exercise before, during and after treatment.

Running cancer patient


The potential benefits of exercise during and after treatment are significant and research has proved its effectiveness. Exercising during chemotherapy can help ease side effects, such as fatigue and nausea, and can help to boost the immune system of those undergoing cancer treatments. Chemotherapy side effects can sometimes make exercising tough, but it’s recommended to try to be as active as possible during treatment.

Benefits of an appropriately prescribed exercise program for this population include improved:

  • Muscle mass, strength, power

  • Cardiorespiratory fitness

  • Physical function

  • Physical activity levels

  • Range of motion

  • Immune function

  • Chemotherapy completion rates

  • Reduced anxiety and depression

Exercise physiology cancer Sunshine Coast


  • Patients who regularly exercised before treatment may find they need to exercise at a lower intensity level.

  • Avoid impact exercises if bone metastases are present (bone is common site for metastases).

  • Patients receiving chemotherapy may experience fluctuating periods of sickness and fatigue during treatment cycles that require frequent modifications to exercise prescription, such as reducing intensity and/or duration of the exercise session.

  • Throughout treatment a patient's immune system is often compromised and if their white blood cell count is low (lower than 3,500 white blood cells per microliter of blood), they should avoid public gyms, yoga studios and other public places until their white blood cell count is at a safe level.


  • Aerobic exercise is an excellent form of exercise to increase aerobic capacity and decrease the side-effects associated with anti-cancer therapy medications.

  • Prolonged rhythmic activities using large muscle groups. For example, walking, cycling or swimming.

  • Resistance exercise and functional tasks including weights, resistance machines or weight-baring functional tasks such as sit-to-stand exercises.

  • Flexibility exercise including stretching or range-of-motion (ROM) exercises. These can be for all major muscle groups or address specific areas of joint of muscle restriction that may have resulted from treatment with steroids, radiation or surgery. Four repetitions of 10 to 30 seconds per stretch can improve flexibility



A thorough screening for cancer comorbidities (other conditions) and exercise contraindications should take place with your GP or specialist before commencing your exercise program.

Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP)

Following this, it is essential for exercise programs to be individualised according to your treatment status, disease stage, functional capacity, physical limitations, exercise history and preferences.

It’s recommended you consult an Accredited Exercise Physiologist before you commence exercise. AEPs play an integral role in prevention, supporting the medical management and optimising recovery following diagnosis.

The goals of exercise therapy vary depending on whether you are receiving initial treatment for a new diagnosis, are in remission, or are receiving treatment for a recurrence and professional advice is strongly recommended.


Oncology Rehabilitation Group

We recommend finding an oncology rehabilitation group at a hospital or community centre. Not only does it help you return to exercise, but most programs usually incorporate an education component and provide you with a fantastic group environment for social and emotional support.

Note: Bone marrow transplant patients should avoid exercising in public places that have high risk of microbial contamination.


We recommends exercising mid-morning to afternoon, depending on when your fatigue levels are their lowest. Important tips to consider:

  • Monitor according to cycle of treatment and associated fatigue.

  • No exercise on days of intravenous chemotherapy or within 24 hrs of treatment.

  • No exercise before blood draw.

  • If fatigue is high on certain days it is best you have a rest day.

If you, or someone you care about, has been diagnosed with cancer please contact us on 07 5456 1599 for a confidential discussion with one of our Accredited Exercise Physiologists.

For more information download the ESSA

guide to Exercise and Cancer.

This information is reproduced with permission of the original creator at

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