- Cancer Information
- Living well
- Exercise after a cancer diagnosis (including videos)
- Treatment side effects and exercise
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:
- Quality of life
- Mood changes
- Loss of muscle strength
- Heart problems
- Loss of bone strength
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.
|fatigue||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).|
|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.|
|lymphoedema||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.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Prue Cormie, Chair, COSA Exercise and Cancer Group, and Principal Research Fellow – Exercise Oncology, Australian Catholic University, NSW; Rebecca Cesnik, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, ACT; Dr Nicolas Hart, Senior Research Fellow, Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Edith Cowan University, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Cancer Council WA; Stephanie Lamb, Life Now Project Officer, Cancer Council WA; John Odd, Consumer; Sharni Quinn, Clinical Lead Physiotherapist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Jane Turner, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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