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Exercise – The Benefits Pre, During and Post Cancer Diagnosis

Rest, take it easy, maybe have a break for a while…

These are comments individuals being treated for or recovering from cancer often here. However research suggests that exercise has multiple benefits pre, during and post cancer treatment.

This doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon or scale a mountain (unless that is your jam, then go for it), it means implementing some form of regular physical activity into your daily routine and reducing the time you spend inactive.

But why?

Studies have shown that being active can help manage some of the common side-effects of cancer treatment, increase treatment response and improve quality of life. Not only does regular physical activity help to reduce the risk of cancer reoccurrence it can help decrease an individual’s risk of developing subsequent chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) suggests that exercise should be prescribed to all cancer patients as a standard component of their cancer treatment.

Side effects and the benefits of exercise

Cancer treatment and side-effects vary from individual to individual; however common side-effects can be managed with the implementation of regular exercise.

  1. Fatigue:

  2. The primary complaint during cancer treatment. Losing fitness and strength can increase fatigue levels, staying active can help reduce fatigue

  3. Quality of life:

  4. Physical activity can help improve quality of life issues such as image / self-esteem, wellbeing, sexuality, sleep disturbance, social functioning, anxiety, fatigue and pain.

  5. Loss of muscle strength:

  6. Inactivity and some forms of cancer treatment can lead to muscle weakness. Strength training helps to maintain / improve muscle strength

  7. Loss of bone strength:

  8. Cancer and its treatment process can have long term effects on bone health / strength. Weight bearing exercise will not only aid in keeping the bones strong but will ensure long term bone health.

  9. Weight gain:

  10. Treatment processes and inactivity often lead to weight gain and can increase the risk of cancer reoccurrence.


Before getting started it is important to speak with an oncologist or general practitioner and seek the advice of an Accredited Exercise Physiologist. Ensuring the correct precautions are taken, the exercise program is adapted to your ability and suits your type / stage of cancer is important.

  1. Choose exercise you enjoy

  2. Include a combination and aerobic and strength training exercises

  3. Build up to achieving 150-300minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75-150min of vigorous intensity exercise over the week

  4. 2 – 3 strength based sessions a week

  5. Reduce time spent inactive – doing something is better than doing nothing

  6. Aim to move on most, preferably all days of the week

  7. Break up long periods of sitting as often as you can

  8. Take your time building up your exercise levels and seek guidance regularly

Take home message:


Exercise can help to manage chronic disease, reduce fatigue and depression and improve overall physical / social functioning and wellbeing. Exercise is a form of treatment that can be beneficial to an individual pre, during and post cancer diagnosis. The sooner you start exercising the better you will feel, the fewer medications you are likely to need and the risk of complications will be lower.

Author – Alice Hall (AEP, AES, ESSAM)

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