Coping with cancer - exercise

Updated 22 May 2019.

Exercise benefits most people both during and after cancer treatment. It can help manage some of the common side effects of treatment, speed up your return to your usual activities, and improve your quality of life. You should be as physically active as your abilities and condition allow. Some days may be harder than others, but even a few minutes of light exercise is better than no exercise at all.            

Exercising with cancer

After a cancer diagnosis, some people decide to make big changes to their lifestyle. Others take a more gradual approach. You will find the way forward that is right for you.

Before taking part in any exercise program, either during or soon after your treatment, it is important to talk with your oncologist or general practitioner (GP) about any precautions you should take.  If it has been a while since you have been active or your fitness level is low, start slowly and build up gradually.


Choosing an exercise program

Physical activity need not be costly or inconvenient. The exercise program that is right for you will depend on your interests, current fitness level, and what your doctor says is safe. Asking a friend or family member to join you can help you stay motivated.


Exercise at home and outdoors

Home-based or outdoor exercise is an excellent way to include physical activity in your daily routine. You could try a walk around the block or swimming laps in the pool. If you haven’t exercised much before or are unsure about what you can do safely, talk to your GP about a referral to an exercise professional.


Attend a group exercise program

Many gyms and fitness centres run group exercise programs. When joining, let your gym know that you have cancer, and ask if they have someone who can help ensure that the exercise program is right for you. An exercise professional should conduct an initial consultation and functional assessment so that the group exercise program is tailored to your abilities and condition.


Mix it up

You might choose a mix of exercising at home or outdoors and attending a group program. The structure and safety of a supervised program can be a great place to start, while your own activities can keep things interesting. Another option is to join a sporting club; belonging to a group provides a social outlet as well as physical benefits.


Safety tips for exercising with cancer

• If you’re going out to exercise, let someone know when you will be back or take a phone with you in case you become fatigued or unwell.

• Start any new exercise program slowly and increase your activity gradually.

• You may get sore muscles when you start a new form of exercise. But the soreness should go away in a few days. If it doesn’t, tell your doctor.

• Some symptoms are warning signs. If you experience any of the following symptoms while exercising, stop the activity immediately and call 000 for urgent medical assistance:

o Pain or pressure in your chest or pain down your arms;

o Severe shortness of breath;

o Dizziness or fainting;

o Irregular or unusually rapid heartbeat;

o Nausea and / or vomiting;

o Extreme weakness or extreme fatigue.


For more detailed information take a look at our Exercise for People Living with Cancer information booklet or give our cancer care nurses a call on 13 11 20. We also provide a range of support services through our Life Now program which may be of assistance to you. Find out more here.

Found in:  News - 2016 | View all news