16 May 2019
Exercise may be the last thing you feel like during cancer treatment, but we now know that for most people living with cancer, exercise is another form of medicine. Evidence continues to establish that improved quality of life and fewer side effects are just some of the beneficial outcomes linked to exercise.
Exercise now adds another element to treatment regimens—a medicinal component that’s designed to help you function and feel better.
Specifically, exercise during cancer can help with many of the side effects of treatment like fatigue, nausea and loss of appetite, anaemia, depression/anxiety, and muscle fat changes. It can also help boost immunity, improve physical function, and help you reach the end of your chemotherapy treatment.
It is important to seek medical advice before beginning an exercise regimen, and to take each day as it comes. Some days will be harder and exercise may have to be limited. Try to incorporate at least some activity throughout the day, as your condition allows. Even a few minutes of light movement is better than none at all.
If it has been a while since you have been active or your fitness level is low, start slowly and build up gradually.
It was mid-2009 when Louise Bond was diagnosed with Stage 4 bowel cancer, told she had years left to live and would be on chemotherapy for the rest of her life.
Shortly after her diagnosis, Louise was told about the importance of including exercise as part of her cancer treatment, which sparked her love of cycling. She began to cycle two to three times a week, changed her diet and did everything she could to look after her body.
“My diagnosis ignited a passion in me to do everything I could to fight off this dreaded disease and it’s that passion that has remained me with me ever since that day. There are also huge social benefits to cycling. Cancer impacted my social life enormously because I had to give up work so my cycling friends helped to fill that void. Despite my first diagnosis, a miracle happened—I went into remission and was told that I was cancer free. It was a huge relief and I continued to cycle daily and keep up my fitness. However in November 2016, I was dealt another blow with the doctors finding active cancer cells in my neck.”
Louise once again began chemotherapy and throughout it all, remained on the bike.
Who can support you
Before taking part in any exercise program—either during or soon after your treatment—first have a chat to your oncologist about your plans. They might advise of some precautions specific to your condition.
Your GP is a fantastic touchpoint to not only provide trusted advice and tips, but to also refer you to a network of other professionals to help you out as needed, like an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist.
Your exercise physiologist or physiotherapist
You can talk to an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist about some good, specific exercises to ease you into physical activity, taking into account your condition. They can work with you and your doctor to develop a personalised exercise program. Read more about the role of an exercise physiologist.
Even better, these visits may be eligible for a Medicare or private health insurance subsidy. A Chronic Disease Management (CDM) plan from your GP can provide up to five subsidised sessions per year, and 10 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Speak to your GP about your eligibility for a CDM plan.
Once you’ve fallen into a routine, you might like to continue to gradually increase your activity through a gym. Just keep in mind that many of these structured programs will require a medical clearance before you start.
Ready to get started? Read more about exercise and cancer, including choosing an exercise program and exercise tips.