Treatment side effects and exercise

Exercise for people living with cancer should be tailored to suit the type and stage of cancer and any side effects.

Learn how exercise can ease these side effects:

Learn more about side effects that need extra care.

How exercise can ease common side effects

Cancer treatment causes various physical effects that are different for different people. Exercise has been shown to help ease some of these.


Feeling tired, even when rested, is common in people with cancer. Sometimes it lasts for months after treatment ends. Staying active can help ease fatigue. Try adjusting how hard and how often you exercise – some people find shorter, frequent aerobic sessions are more manageable; others prefer strength-based training. Losing fitness and strength can make fatigue worse. Doing some low intensity exercise can help you maintain your fitness and strength (unless you have severe anaemia).


Low red blood cell and/or haemoglobin count is another common side effect of cancer treatment. Symptoms of anaemia include unexplained tiredness and fatigue. Combined with good nutrition, exercise has been shown to improve anaemia. For mild or moderate anaemia, try a low-intensity exercise program, with gradual increases in intensity and/or duration. If anaemia is severe, ask your doctor about whether you should avoid exercise until it improves.

quality of life

Studies show that physical activity can help improve quality-of-life issues, such as body image/self-esteem, wellbeing,  sexuality, sleep disturbance, social functioning, anxiety, fatigue and pain.

mood changes

Feeling anxious or depressed during and after treatment is common. Exercise encourages the brain to produce chemicals (endorphins) that can improve your mood.

loss of muscle strength

If your muscles aren’t being used as much as usual during and after treatment, they can get weaker. Losing muscle strength is also a side effect of some types of hormone therapy and steroid treatment. Strength training will help make your muscles stronger.

heart problems

Radiation therapy to the chest and some types of chemotherapy and targeted therapy drugs may damage the heart muscle and increase the risk of heart problems (cardiovascular disease) after treatment. Aerobic activities can help reduce the risk of long-term heart problems.

loss of bone strength

Cancer and its treatment, particularly radiation therapy, can have long-term effects on bone strength. Early menopause and some types of hormone therapy may also cause bones to weaken and break more easily (osteoporosis). Exercise that requires you to support your own body weight will help keep your bones strong.


Starting an exercise program early in treatment may reduce the risk of developing lymphoedema, which causes swelling of part of the body, such as an arm or leg. If you have lymphoedema, a lymphoedema practitioner can help you develop an exercise plan.

For more on this, see Lymphoedema.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on exercise for people living with cancer.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit:


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit:

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit:

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in April 2019
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Support services

Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum

Life after cancer treatment
Programs and support for people who have finished treatment

ENRICH – a free healthy lifestyle program
A face-to-face exercise and nutrition program for cancer survivors

Cancer information

Nutrition and cancer
How to eat well during and after cancer treatment

Staying healthy after treatment
Lifestyle changes that can help keep you in good health

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends