Being physically active and limiting sedentary behaviour is essential for health and well-being. Research shows that physical activity can both reduce the risk of some cancers and help prevent some types of cancer coming back. Physical activity also helps to prevent weight gain and obesity, which are risk factors for a number of cancers.
Physical activity has a range of other benefits for cancer survivors. It can boost energy levels, increase muscle strength, improve mobility and balance, relieve stress, reduce the risk of heart disease, improve sleep, and decrease fatigue, anxiety and depression.
For maximum cancer prevention benefits, Cancer Council recommends aiming for at least 60 minutes of moderate activity or 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day. This can be broken up into smaller episodes of at least 10 minutes each. Moderate activity includes brisk walking, swimming and even household chores. Vigorous activity includes football, netball, running and aerobics.
Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. Start physical activity slowly and build up gradually. Many people lose muscle strength during cancer treatment and find it harder to complete tasks of normal daily living. Strength-training (resistance) activities can be very useful to reverse losses in muscle strength.
If you are unsure if you are well enough to exercise or worried about disrupting your recovery, talk to your doctor about the type and amount of activity suitable for you. They may refer you to an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist. Ask about Medicare rebates.
How to be more active
- Walk with a friend, join a walking group or walk to the corner shop instead of driving.
- Break up long periods of sitting or screen time by standing up every half-hour.
- Take the stairs instead of the lift or escalators.
- Do vigorous housework and activities around the home, such as vacuuming, gardening or mowing the lawn.
- Get off the bus or train one stop earlier or park further away from your destination and walk the rest of the way.
- Join a dance or yoga class.
- Take your children or grandchildren to the park or kick a ball around the backyard.
- Join an exercise group or a local gym.
- Try short periods of aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, cycling or swimming), stretching, strength training (resistance exercises), Pilates and tai chi.
- Talk to your GP before starting a new exercise program. A physiotherapist or exercise physiologist can develop a program that is right for you.
- If you are being physically active outdoors, remember to protect your skin.
- See Exercise and cancer for more on this.
- Call 13 11 20 to find out about survivorship programs in your area.