Iconic Community / 28 Apr, 2020

A must read guide to exercise during a cancer diagnosis

Icon Writers

Exercise is encouraged and prescribed to every person across the world to promote optimum health. While exercise cannot guarantee or prevent all illnesses from occurring, training regularly positively contributes to greater overall health and wellbeing and mitigates the risk of disease.

For people with a cancer diagnosis, while rest is essential, it’s just as important to keep up with physical activity.1 Moving your body helps to manage treatment side effects, reduce recovery time and improve your overall outlook on life. Combined with a healthy diet, you can potentially prevent the recurrence of some cancer types. A healthy lifestyle also reduces the possibility of developing other health conditions like diabetes or heart disease.2

Many organisations across the world, including the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) and Exercise & Sport Science Australia (ESSA), actively promote and encourage each cancer treatment plan to include exercise.3

Benefits of exercise for cancer patients

Exercising and making healthy diet choices throughout your cancer journey, from diagnosis through to treatment and beyond, promotes and improves a variety of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual functions.1 Some include:

  • overall physical wellness and body function
  • stronger muscles and bones
  • enhances blood circulation and regulates blood pressure
  • regulates weight to a healthy level
  • improves energy levels
  • enhances mobility and balance
  • positive self-esteem
  • improves mental and emotional wellbeing, including better management of stress, anxiety, depression or other emotions
  • provides a healthy source of social interaction and connection with like-minded individuals
  • mitigates heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers
  • stimulates healthy immune function and cellular activity
  • builds self-connection and self-confidence
  • releases endorphins
  • reinforces a positive mindset
  • introduces new activities to look forward to mastering
  • encourages the continuation of previously enjoyed physical activities

Types of exercise for cancer patients

The three main categories of exercise include aerobic, strength and flexibility training.1

Aerobic exercises

This includes aerobics, spin classes, HIIT (high-intensity interval training), running, swimming and more. Aerobic activity can be scaled and performed at an intensity and pace suitable to how you feel each day. A key benefit includes improved heart and lung fitness through oxygenation. It’s ideal for increasing your heart rate and using larger muscle groups.

Strength training

Often referred to as resistance training or weight training. Resistance training helps to build muscle and maintain muscle mass. When combined with functional movement: the seven basic movements of the human body (squat, pull, bend, walk, push, hinge and twist), you equip your body to move efficiently in day-to-day activities.2 For patients not strong enough to lift heavier weight, body weight exercises are still highly beneficial.

Flexibility exercises

This includes yoga, pilates, tai chi, foam rolling or general stretching exercises. Through this type of workout, you’ll improve your range of motion, improve posture and breathing, while strengthening all the muscles in your body.

If you’re unsure where to begin or what type of exercise is suitable for your current state of health, please speak with your care team.



Watch this video on the importance of exercise.

Young Women’s Cancer Program

Icon’s Young Women’s Cancer Program understand the unique challenges young women with a cancer diagnosis face. This support includes connecting young women with services that can help maintain their optimal fitness through relevant exercise programs as well as programs to help self-esteem and body image. To find out more, click here.


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Exercise after a cancer diagnosis. Cancer Council NSW. Retrieved 18th March, 2020. https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/UC-Pub-CAN4152-Exercise-01-52pp.pdf
  2. The Fundamental Human Movements. Student REC and Wellness Center, Long Beach State University. [2016]. Retrieved 18th March, 2020. https://www.asirecreation.org/recreport/ask-trainer/63-ask-a-trainer-archive/302-the-fundamental-human-movements
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