Exercise and Cancer – Exercise Right (Part 2)

May 18, 2021 10:51 am Published by


This is the second of three articles penned by BallyCara’s esteemed Exercise Physiologist, Elise Edwards, in the run up to Exercise Right Week. This week’s article explores exercise and its connections to cancer management.


Cancer. The big C. Very many of us have been touched by this chronic disease, whether it be yourself or a loved one. Someone in Australia is diagnosed with cancer every four minutes. Thankfully, there are now many treatments to fight the disease more effectively and, only recently, exercise is being prescribed as the gold standard treatment! Check out clinical researcher and exercise physiologist Dr Prue Cormie online with her take on the fight against cancer. Prue mentions that, “only one in ten of those diagnosed will exercise enough during and after their treatment. But every one of those patients would benefit from exercise.” Who knows how much exercise to do? Will it negatively affect me during my treatment? What about when there is a global pandemic bearing down on us? What type of exercise should I do? All of these questions will be answered!

You may have heard of it by now, but COVID-19 has been quite the big deal! The pandemic has affected immunocompromised individuals (like those with cancer) far more severely. Believe it or not, exercise has shown positive effects in strengthening the immune system. Research has also shown that only one bout of exercise can enhance the body’s natural killer cells up to 6 times than doing nothing at all! Therefore, it is more important than ever to work out how to exercise right if you’re living with cancer. See some ideas below for types of exercise that might be right for you when living with cancer.


Types of Exercise

Continuing or even commencing a new exercise program at home can be challenging; but fortunately, Exercise Physiologists are able to provide support for individuals living with, or previously having, cancer during this tricky time. Exercise has not only shown a multitude of benefits including improving fitness, strength, balance, mental health and overall wellbeing, but more specifically it equips the body with the natural tools it needs to more efficiently to fight cancer and manage the effects of treatment.

Research has shown that specific exercise can counteract effects from treatment, including but not limited to cancer-related fatigue, nausea and pain. As with any individual, exercise is safest and most effective when prescribed an individualised program by a health professional. Remember that although there are guidelines for exercising when living with cancer, some days are going to be better than others. You may not be able to complete your normal exercise session. Don’t forget that on these days, “something is always better than nothing”, so even walking to the letterbox and back to collect the mail or doing some housework are other ways to incorporate physical activity in your day. For more information, check out the eBook published by Exercise & Sport Sciences Australia (ESSA): Exercise & Cancer eBook.


Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise is described as continual movement to assist in the improvement of cardiorespiratory function. This includes things like walking, cycling, swimming or even dancing! For individuals with cancer, it’s recommended to perform aerobic exercise on most days of the week aiming for 30 minutes. Remember that if you’re just starting out, you may only be able to manage 10minutes at the start and gradually progress over a few weeks to reach that goal of 30minutes continuously. At home, using some portable pedals (which can be purchased for $30-$50) in the comfort of your lounge room may be a great alternative.


Resistance Exercise

Maintaining strength is not only important to keep our muscles healthy, this also helps with performing daily activities (including standing out of a chair and getting in and out of the shower safely) and has an important role in maintaining balance. Resistance exercises can be performed using your body weight, light hand weights or resistance bands, various machines/free weights found in a gym setting (when safe to do so with careful consideration of the risks of COVID) or even using common household items like cans of food. Moving your muscles under a greater resistance promotes an increase in muscle mass. Be sure to ask your exercise physiologist what type of resistance training is right for you. For people with cancer, it’s recommended to undertake resistance training 2-3x weekly with a range of large, functional muscle groups being used.


When Not to Exercise

With COVID proving to be doggedly persistant, it is recommended individuals with cancer should stay at home as much as possible. Be sure to keep up to date with the latest advice during the pandemic through the Cancer Council. There are ways individuals with cancer can exercise safely without putting themselves at risk. Be sure to consult your exercise physiologist (many of which are currently offering telehealth services!) to ensure you can exercise safely at home.

As with all exercise, it’s important to avoid training if you’re experiencing abnormal symptoms (i.e. vomiting, diarrhoea or new pain yet to be investigated) or if it’s extremely hot. If you’re ever unsure or something doesn’t feel “quite right”, be sure to speak with your health professional. Be sure to start at a light intensity and gradually progress.



For more information, check out the resources and latest information on the Cancer Council Australia website or contact your health care professional or visit Exercise is Medicine Australia to view the public fact sheets for Exercise and Cancer.

For more information on BallyCara’s Wellness Program, and how we can help you on your exercise journey, click here.




Categorised in:

This post was written by Lachlan Green

Comments are closed here.