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Cancer and Exercise

Cancer treatment and recovery may be a difficult and tiring time with most sufferers reducing their physical activity in the effort to rest more.

Physical activity is often placed on the back burner with cancer patients often lacking in motivation and believing that exercise will increase their fatigue and other symptoms. However, rest isn’t always the answer and research has proved that exercise can be beneficial for most patients both during and after cancer treatment. After all, physical inactivity has unwanted side effects of its own. These include fatigue, muscle wastage, weight gain and decreased aerobic fitness, all of which make our activities of everyday living seem much harder than before.

It is well known that cancer is a group of diseases in which some of the body’s cells become abnormal and divide without control. These cancerous cells can develop within all parts of the body and can also invade other sites by spreading through the lymphatic system and blood vessels. Treatment for cancer may include one, or a combination, of the following:


· Classified as local treatment

· Involves removing as much of the tumor as possible without damaging nearby healthy organs to make other cancer treatments more effective


· Classified as local treatment

· Involves the use of high energy particles/waves to kill or damage cells so they can’t multiply


· Classified as a systemic treatment

· Involves the use of drugs to kill/slow the growth of cancer cells via the bloodstream

Hormone therapy

· Classified as systemic treatment

· Involves the use of synthetic hormones to lower the amount of our body’s natural hormones the tumor receives.


· Assists the body’s immune system to fight cancer

· May include checkpoint inhibitors and immune stimulants

The above treatments can all produce side effects however this varies from person to person, even among those receiving the same type of cancer treatment.

Common side effects of cancer treatment include:

· Nausea/vomiting

· Anaemia

· Fatigue

· Muscle weakness

· Changes in appetite (often resulting in weight loss or gain)

· Mood and cognitive changes

There a several ways to treat and manage these side effects. In some cases it may mean taking medication or starting an alternative therapy, however, exercise is also effective in helping to reduce some of the problems. The following table summarises how the most common treatment side effects

So how much exercise should you do?

It is important to gradually introduce exercise into your daily routine, particularly if you have previously been sedentary. The goal is to gradually increase to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. This can be described as an exercise that increases your heart rate and breathing rate that still enables you to talk, but not sing. This could include walking, cycling, or swimming for aerobic training, and should also include at least two sessions of resistance-based exercise per week (ideally on non-consecutive days) for improvements in muscle strength.

Here at 4 Life, one of our exercise physiologists, Rachel, is a facilitator of the Cancer Council’s Life Now Exercise Program. This is a 12-week group exercise program provided by the Cancer Council WA for people currently undergoing or who have completed cancer treatment in the last two years. Participants receive an individualised exercise program to complete under the guidance of our exercise physiologists in our on-site rehabilitation gym in Mandurah. Registrations are essential and can be made through the Cancer Council on 13 11 20.

If you have any queries regarding exercise during your treatment and recovery from cancer, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with 4 Life Exercise Physiology.

By Rachel Halleen

Exercise Physiologist

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