What is exercise medicine?

Recent research has shown that physical activity can influence cancer outcomes and play a pivotal role in cancer survivorship.1-3 It may be an important part of your overall treatment, regardless of the type of treatment you may have, such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy or a combination of any of these.

What are the benefits?

Exercise before surgery

Following a cancer diagnosis, surgery is often (but not always) the first part of the treatment process. Sometimes, there may be a delay before surgery is carried out. An appropriate exercise program before surgery, even if it is short, can help to prepare your body for surgery and assist in speeding up recovery.18 If you are reading this before you have surgery, it’s not too soon to ask your doctor about exercise.

Exercise during treatment

Therapies used to treat cancer may have numerous side-effects. While your doctor(s) will aim to optimise your treatment’s effectiveness while minimising side-effects, some treatments can have a significant impact on your body and quality-of-life. Incorporating a personalised exercise program into your overall treatment plan may help to manage some of the side effects of your treatment as well as help to improve your overall well-being.1,4-6 In some cases, exercise can prevent, reduce and even reverse treatment related side-effects.7,8

Exercise after treatment

After your treatment has finished, carrying on with your exercise plan can help to:

  • Speed up your recovery
  • Regain muscle strength and overall fitness
  • Manage any long-term side-effects
  • Improve your quality of life
  • Stay healthy in the future

The evidence for prescribing exercise medicine

After treatment, exercise can help to restore muscle mass, strength and improve physical function and cardiovascular capacity1,12-14 - all factors that may be adversely affected during cancer treatment. Exercise may also help to manage the long-term and late effects of treatment, as well as help promote long-term function, health and survival.1,15,16


  1. Buffart LM, Kalter J, Sweegers MG, et al. Effects and moderators of exercise on quality of life and physical function in patients with cancer. An individual patient data meta-analysis of 34 RCTs. Cancer Treat Rev, Jan 2017; Pages:91-104.
  2. Hayes SC, Spence RR, Galvão DA, Newton RU. Australian Association for Exercise and Sport Science position stand: optimising cancer outcomes through exercise. Journal of Sci and Med in Sport, 2009; 12(4); Pages: 428-34.

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