Fighting for your life: How exercise is being used to aid in the treatment of cancer

Up until recently, many people diagnosed with cancer were told to take it easy and rest up to best recover, but recent research has shown that this may actually do more harm than good. Exercise has been shown to help reduce side effects associated with cancer treatments, improve the effectiveness of the treatment and improve overall quality of life!

Cancer encompasses a variety of diseases and occurs when cells grow abnormally, which leads to a tumour forming. Once diagnosed, it is usually treated via chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, surgery or a combination. Although these treatments can be effective when treating cancer, they can also come with some harsh side effects. Some of these include feeling tired, nausea, bone mass loss, memory and concentration troubles, swelling, loss of confidence, depression, lowering of immunity and dizziness.

Multiple studies have found that exercise has numerous beneficial effects on the wellbeing of cancer patients including:

  • Improved fitness level and strength

  • Prevents bone loss

  • Improved balance and lower falls risk

  • Reduced risk of limb swelling

  • Reduced risk of developing other diseases such as hypertension, osteoporosis and type II diabetes

  • Improved blood flow to the tumour so medication can reach the tumour more easily

  • Reduced fatigue

  • Improved self-esteem and confidence

  • Reduced cognitive and memory issues associated with chemotherapy

  • Reduced cancer recurrence

  • Improved mood 

As everyone is different and side effects may vary between cancers and individuals, it is important to consult your doctor or exercise physiologist before starting an exercise program.Some tips when starting an exercise program include to start slow and build intensity and length of sessions gradually, be mindful of the present moment, join a group to keep you accountable. Particularly if you don’t have a recent history with exercise, coming to see a specialist like one of the many at Kinetic Medicine can get you started in a direction that will be safe and effective. The most important thing is that your program works for you and to just get started!


Emma Tunbridge