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Why exercise is important

Exercise has many general benefits for our physical and mental wellbeing. It can:

  • improve physical function
  • strengthen muscles and bones
  • improve circulation
  • help you maintain or achieve a healthy weight
  • boost your energy levels
  • improve your mobility and balance
  • enhance self-esteem
  • help you cope with stress, anxiety and depression
  • offer new ways to meet people and socialise
  • reduce the risk of, or help manage, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers.

What is exercise?

Physical activity is a broad term that covers any activity that moves your body and speeds up your breathing and heartbeat. This can include exercise, which is structured physical activity that aims to improve health and fitness. It can include both exercise sessions and everyday activities such as housework.

Types of exercise

Exercise can be grouped into three main categories:

Aerobic exercises – use large muscle groups and cause your heart rate to rise. Aerobic exercise increases your capacity to use oxygen, which improves heart and lung fitness. With time, strenuous tasks become easier.

Strength training – involves making your muscles work harder than usual against some sort of resistance. Strength training is also known as resistance training or weight training.

Flexibility exercises – stretch your muscles and help improve your range of motion.

How active should we be?

Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Adults outline what types of exercise to do and how often to exercise. They are based on scientific evidence supporting the connection between physical activity, wellbeing, disease prevention and quality of life. The guidelines recommend that you should:

  • move more and sit less
  • aim to be active on most, preferably all, days of the week
  • get a total of 2½ to 5 hours (150 to 300 minutes) of moderate intensity exercise or 11/4 to 2½ hours (75 to 150 minutes) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities throughout a week
  • do 2–3 strength-training (resistance) sessions a week
  • break up long periods of sitting as often as you can.

Along with exercise, eating well has many benefits for health and wellbeing. See a dietitian or read our ‘Nutrition for People Living with Cancer’ booklet.

Featured resource

Exercise for People Living with Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed March 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: 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.

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