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- Living well after cancer
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- Be physically active and sit less
Be physically active and sit less
Physical activity is a broad term that covers any activity that moves your body and increases your breathing and heart rate.
Learn more about:
- Benefits of physical activity
- Recommended amounts of activity
- Taking care when exercising
- How to be more active
- Video: What role does exercise play in your cancer recovery?
Benefits of physical activity
Physical activity has a range of benefits for cancer survivors. It can:
- reduce the risk of some cancers (but not all) coming back, including breast, bowel and endometrial (uterine) cancers
- help prevent weight gain – being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many cancers
- help with recovery from treatment (rehabilitation) by increasing energy levels, improving sleep, increasing muscle strength, improving mobility and balance, relieving stress, and decreasing fatigue, anxiety and depression
- reduce the risk of developing other health problems, such as heart disease, osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes.
Recommended amounts of activity
Once cancer treatment is finished and you return to your usual day-to-day activities, aim to be as physically active as your abilities allow.
The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia recommends that people with cancer do:
- at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes (1¼ hours) of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise every week
- 2–3 strength-training (resistance exercise) sessions a week to build muscle strength.
Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines encourage adults to aim to do 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate activity or 150 minutes (2½ hours) of vigorous activity every week.
For maximum cancer prevention benefits, aim to gradually increase your activity to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity or 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day.
Many people lose muscle mass and strength during cancer treatment and find it harder to complete tasks of normal daily living. Strength-training (resistance exercise) can help you regain physical strength and get back to your daily activities. It can be done at home, an exercise clinic or gym. Resistance-based exercises can be done using your own body weight or equipment such as resistance bands, hand and ankle weights, or gym-based machines.
Moderate intensity aerobic exercise includes brisk walking, swimming, jogging, cycling and golf. Vigorous intensity aerobic exercise includes fast jogging, running, swimming or cycling and playing team sport such as football or netball.
Taking care when exercising
Before taking part in any exercise program, it is important to talk to your specialist or GP about any precautions you should take. Ask about the amount and type of exercise that is right for you.
Your doctor may refer you to an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist to develop an exercise program to meet your specific needs. You may be able to attend one-to-one or group-based sessions, or your exercise professional may develop a program for you to follow at home. They will also show you how to exercise safely and monitor the intensity of your exercise (e.g. by measuring your heart rate).
How to be more active
- Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. To avoid overexerting yourself, start physical activity slowly and build up gradually.
- Walk with a friend or pet, join a walking group or walk to the corner shop instead of driving. If you are exercising outdoors, remember to protect your skin.
- Break up long periods of sitting or screen time by standing up and moving every half-hour.
- Take the stairs instead of the lift or escalators.
- Do some vigorous housework and activities around the home each day, 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.
- Record your activity or steps completed each day. This can help keep you motivated.
- Join a group class such as dancing, Pilates, yoga or tai chi.
- Take your children or grandchildren to the park or kick a ball around the backyard.
- Try short periods of aerobic-based exercise (e.g. walking, cycling or swimming), stretching, or resistance-based exercises (e.g. using hand weights, resistance bands or your own body weight).
- Join a cancer survivorship exercise program or a local gym. Call 13 11 20 to find out about survivorship programs in your area.
- For some simple exercises to do at home, see Exercise after a cancer diagnosis.
I was not as active before cancer as I am now. I walk three or four times a week. It gives me extra energy and helps clear my mind.Rima
Video: What role does exercise play in my cancer recovery?
This webinar video looks at how exercise can help in your cancer recovery.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof Michael Jefford, Medical Oncologist and Director, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Lucy Bailey, Nurse Counsellor, Cancer Council Queensland; Philip Bullas, Consumer; Dr Kate Gunn, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow, Department of Rural Health, University of South Australia, SA; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Prof David Joske, Clinical Haematologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Clinical Professor of Medicine, The University of Western Australia, WA; Kim Kerin-Ayres, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Survivorship, Concord Hospital, NSW; Sally Littlewood, Physiotherapist, Seymour Health, VIC; Georgina Lohse, Social Worker, GV Health,VIC; Melanie Moore, Exercise Physiologist and Clinical Supervisor, University of Canberra Cancer Wellness Clinic, ACT; June Savva, Senior Clinician Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics, Monash Cancer Centre, Monash Health, VIC; Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, Specialist General Practitioner and Research Fellow, University of New South Wales, NSW; Prof Janette Vardy, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre and Professor of Cancer Medicine, The University of Sydney, NSW; Lyndell Wills, Consumer.
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