Cancer and exercise

Exercise has many benefits for physical and mental wellbeing both during and after cancer treatment. People with cancer are encouraged to be as physically active as possible under the guidance of their trusted health professional.

What are the benefits of exercise if I have cancer?

Cancer treatment has many unwanted side effects, but exercise has been shown to improve some of these adverse effects, including fatigue and tiredness, nausea, and lymphoedema (abnormal swelling, often in limbs after surgery). Exercise also helps to maintain muscle mass and tone and assist with mental health and wellbeing. Other positive health benefits that you will experience are increasing endurance and social and emotional wellbeing.

Maintaining bone health and density is very important during cancer treatments. Weight bearing and balance exercises will assist with bone health. Some specific cancer treatments can reduce bone density and increase the likelihood of fractures. Combined with treatments that cause dizziness, this can lead to a fear of falling and risk of fractures. Exercising during cancer will often focus on weight bearing and balance.

How should I start exercise if I have cancer?

The health professionals in your cancer team are expertly placed to advise you on the best and safest method to exercise. Professionals such as physiotherapists and exercise physiologists are able to help you develop an individualised exercise program considering your cancer diagnosis, current treatment and medical history to get the best results and make you feel as well as possible.

If you were already active prior to your cancer diagnosis, your health team will take your previous exercise regime into account when developing a plan to maintain your fitness during and after treatment.

What do I need to think about when I exercise with cancer?

Developing a tailored and individualised exercise program is crucial for those that are undergoing cancer treatment. Regardless of the type of cancer, exercise is important, but treatment has different impacts for different people and so the exercise program will be unique to you also.

One of the most important considerations with exercising when undergoing cancer treatment is consistency. Whilst exercise may be the last thing on your mind when experiencing excessive fatigue or nausea, your health team can help you adjust and monitor exercise intensity and duration. Shorter, more frequent sessions are often more manageable. Importantly, it is strongly advised against peaks and troughs with exercising. Increasing physical activity or over exercising when feeling well commonly results in increased fatigue further exacerbating fatigue when unwell.

What type of exercise should I do if I have cancer?

A balanced exercise program consisting of resistance training, aerobic exercise and core work and flexibility is advised for those undergoing or following cancer treatment. This is not much different from programs not undergoing cancer treatment. So, you can see that it will be sustainable for you in the long run too. Importantly, your program needs to be enjoyable and practical. Exercise can often be done at home or in a group based environment without the need for specialised equipment.

Our team at New Tricks Co would love to hear about your experiences exercising with cancer? Let us know your helpful tips or tricks at hello@newtricksco.com.au

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