17 March 2023

Exercise after treatment

It is proven that exercise helps with rehabilitation after cancer treatment. It builds up muscle size and strength, helps you regain function, improves the capacity of the heart and lungs, reduces fatigue, and enhances overall quality of life. It is highly likely that regular exercise will reduce the risk of the cancer coming back and prevent you developing other chronic diseases that are often late stage side effects of cancer treatment.

Getting started

The most important thing is to avoid being sedentary (sitting for long periods of time). This is because being sedentary reduces your ability to overcome the cancer, makes side effects of treatment more severe, and results in poorer physical and mental health.

A little bit of physical activity is better than none; and more is better than a little. This physical activity can include sports such as golf and bowling – in fact, any movement that raises your heart rate, makes you breathe faster and deeper, and contracts your muscles forcefully.

However, for the best outcome it is important to use regular exercise as a medicine to help manage your cancer.

Exercise medicine

Exercise medicine can be prescribed to specifically address the health issues that are causing you the greatest problems. In general, this will involve a combination of cardiorespiratory exercise (for example, fast walking, jogging, cycling or swimming)  as well as resistance exercise (for example, lifting weights and body weight exercise).

If you are relatively healthy, then you should aim to perform:
• 70 to 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week
• at least 2 resistance training sessions per week.

If you are experiencing disease and/or treatment-related issues, you may need a more targeted exercise prescription to treat the problems. In this case it is recommended that you consult with an accredited exercise physiologist (AEP), who will assess your health  and fitness and then prescribe a targeted exercise program that is safe and will achieve the best outcomes for you.

You can find an AEP in your local area through the website www.essa.org.au/find-aep and select “cancer” as a specialty. Medicare may pay for all or a portion of the cost of a consultation with an AEP. This involves asking your GP for a “chronic disease management plan” to include referral to an AEP.

Other good resources to get you started on an exercise program include:

• Exercise is Medicine Australia at www.exerciseismedicine.com.au
• Tips for starting an exercise program here 
• My exercise medicine at www.myexercisemedicine.net