How exercise can support your health before, during and after cancer treatment

GenesisCare considers exercise to be an important component of your treatment plan. This maybe a surprise considering that, historically, doctors advised cancer patients to rest during treatment.1 However, research now shows that physical activity can influence cancer outcomes and play a pivotal role in cancer survivorship.1

There is evidence to show that exercise may be performed during and after your cancer treatment.1 Regardless of whether you’re having therapy like radiation or chemotherapy.1 However, you should speak to your doctor about how you may incorporate exercise in an appropriate way into your cancer journey.

Why exercise following a cancer diagnosis?

There is evidence to suggest that following a cancer diagnosis an appropriately prescribed exercise program may have positive benefits on the body and overall quality-of-life.1

Research in people with cancer has shown that exercise may:

  • help manage fatigue, which may be a side-effect of radiation and chemotherapy2,3
  • help prevent, reduce, and sometimes reverse the side-effects of hormone therapy4
  • reduce the severity of anxiety and improve mood2
  • improve immune function5
  • reduce fat gain and improve body composition6
  • improve strength and reduce fatigue7
  • preserve bone mass4
  • improve balance4
  • maintain general physical function3
  • reduce duration of hospitalisation8

Recurrence, progression, and survival

The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore. Everyone benefits from exercise, regardless of age, sex, or physical ability.9 Exercise may help prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns.10 Research has also shown that physical activity may be associated with a reduced likelihood of developing certain cancers.11

Exercise before treatment or surgeryExercise during treatmentExercise after treatment

Following a cancer diagnosis, surgery may be 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, may help to prepare your body for surgery and assist in speeding up recovery.12 If you are reading this before you have surgery, it’s not too soon to talk to your doctor about exercise.

Therapies used to treat cancer can have side-effects.13 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.14 Adding a personalised exercise program alongside your treatment plan may help build your body back up when it is feeling most fragile. In some cases, exercise may prevent, reduce, and even reverse treatment related side-effects.4

After treatment, exercise may help to restore muscle mass and strength and improve physical function and cardiorespiratory fitness –all factors that may be adversely affected during cancer treatment.15 Exercise may also help to manage the long-term and late effects of treatment, and/or promote long term function, health, and survival.15-17

Click here to listen to our panel discussion on the important role exercise can play in integrative cancer care.

To find a GenesisCare centre where you can discuss integrative cancer care with one of our doctors click here.

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  1. Schmitz KH, et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2010;42(7):1409–1426.
  2. Cramp F, Byron-Daniel. Cochr Datab Syst Rev 2012, Issue 11. Art. No: CD006145.
  3. Ligibel JA, et al. J Clin Oncol 2022;40(22):2491–2507.
  4. Ferioli M, et al. Oncotarget 2018;9(17):14005–14034.
  5. Sitlinger A, et al Blood Adv 202;4(8):1801–1811.
  6. Courneya KS, et al. J Clin Oncol 2007;1;25(28): 4396–4404.
  7. Taaffe DR, et al. Eur Urol 2017;72(2):293–299.
  8. Mijwel S, et al. Oncologist 2020; 25(1):23–32.
  9. Sallis RE. BJSM 2009; 43(1):3–4.
  10. Haskell WL, et al. Circulation 2007;116(9):1081.
  11. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Diet, nutrition, physical activity and cancer: a global perspective. Continuous update project expert report 2018.
  12. Michael CM, et al. Cancer Med 2021;10:4195–4205.
  13. Brown JC, et al. Compr Physiol 2012;2(4): 2775–2809.
  14. Sibeoni J, et al. BMC Cancer 2018;18(1):951.
  15. Stout NL, et al. CA Cancer J Clin 2021;71(2):149–175.
  16. Campbell KL, et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2019;51(11):2375–2390.
  17. Morishita S, et al. Integr Cancer Ther 2020;19:1–10.

This article provides information only. It does not constitute medical advice or a substitute for speaking to a qualified health professional. Always speak to your doctor before changing your exercise regime.