Exercise and Cancer: What are the recommendations?

It is now widely accepted that exercise is an integral part of treatment of all cancers – before, during and after. Studies have shown that people who have carried out exercise during their treatment experience fewer or less severe side effects from treatment.

The current guidelines recommend people with cancer avoid inactivity and return to normal activities as soon as possible following diagnosis. Gradually introduce planned activity building up the intensity and duration slowly. That they progress towards and maintain participation in regular moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walk, swimming, cycling) and resistance exercise (weights, resistance band and body weight). Exercise sessions should be spread out over the week allowing adequate recovery time.

Pre treatment

After diagnosis and prior to treatment exercise can be used as “prehabilitation”. Exercise can optimise baseline function, reduce treatment related complications and enhance recovery post-surgery.

During treatment

Recent studies have found that it is safe to exercise throughout all treatments of cancer with modifications made where needed. If you have had major surgery to remove cancer cells exercise is not recommended until approximately four to six weeks post-surgery and clearance should be obtained from your treating team. During chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy and hormone therapy exercise is safe and effective.

Exercise during treatment has shown that there is a reduction in the time spent in hospital. It can also improve the time taken to recover. Exercise can reduce “chemo fog” and fatigue caused by different treatments. It can preserve heart health, muscle strength, improve body composition and increase body density. Exercise can assist with maintaining immune function when it can be compromised by different treatments. Mental health conditions are common with any chronic disease diagnosis. Exercise can assist with this by improving both mood, self-esteem, sleep patterns and overall quality of life.

Post treatment

Exercising after all treatment has been completed can assist in managing long-term side affects after treatment, reduce cancer mortality and the risk of the cancer returning or the development of a new cancer. It can also reduce the risk of developing other chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis etc).


Exercise can help maintain function and quality of life even if the cancer is not responding to treatment. Exercise prescription should be dependent on the individual’s goals, abilities and preferences.


These recommendations should be tailored to an individual’s needs with adaptations made as required. It is recommended you see an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to guide you in your specific exercise needs.


How we can help?

Activate Health’s Accredited Exercise Physiologists (Rockhampton, Yeppoon, and Emu Park) are university qualified allied health professionals that are recognised by Medicare who specialise in clinical exercise interventions for a broad range of chronic and complex medical conditions. At Activate Health our AEP has undertaken further study in the field of oncology. They have a broad knowledge of cancer pathology, all phases of cancer care, symptoms and side affects of treatment and how this effects exercise capacity. They will also provide cancer-specific exercise education, advice and support to clients diagnosed with cancer.

Contact our AEPs for an appointment to get an exercise program tailored to your individual needs.


Karen Seymour

Accredited Exercise Physiologist