What are the benefits of exercise?

There is a huge amount of research and information available on the benefits of exercising with cancer.

However, many people still feel unsure how this can help especially when you are going through treatment, feeling very unwell and tired. Most importantly you need to remember everyone is different. Treatment is specifically tailored to each individual and this should be the same with exercise. Side effects, coping mechanisms and general wellbeing effects are not the same for everyone, what works for one person isn’t necessarily going to work for you.

A good exercise programme can help to ameliorate many cancer or treatment related side effects.

Exercise is medicine, wonderful for our physical and emotional health. It is one thing you can do for yourself, which is very empowering. It can be carried out before, during and after treatment but you need to be mindful of how you are feeling. It is possible that exercise lowers the risk of cancer relapse although whether it can prevent recurrence of leukaemia or any other type of blood cancer is still unknown. Keeping your fitness up after treatment can reduce longer term risks such as heart disease which may be associated with some treatments. It can also increase the likelihood that you are fit enough for optimum treatment in the future, should your cancer return.

When thinking about exercising it is always good to speak to someone from your medical team to keep them informed as they may advise you of any precautions you need to take. What you are able to do will be determined by your treatment as you may be in hospital for a few weeks due to low blood count and some treatments put you at a higher risk of infection.

Some side effects are more common than others but, in general, if you are able to exercise at an level that is tailored to your physical needs, these sides effects should not be made any worse and, in some cases, may improve.

Contrary to belief, exercise can help with tiredness and does not exacerbate the condition. An overemphasis on energy conservation can result in treatment related losses of aerobic fitness and muscle strength. Exercise can help to decrease bone pain, improve sleep and appetite. If your weight has increased, gentle exercise may not stop you putting weight on but it can help in reducing the amount gained. During treatment there can be muscle wastage which impacts on your muscle to fat ratio. As your fat increases, your muscle mass depletes. However, by exercising, you can try and reduce this wastage and start to control the weight increase. If the amount of lean muscle mass lost has been very significant, it’s best to begin with strengthening exercises first, then build up to some aerobic exercise. For more information on suitable exercises, seek advice from exercise specialist or physio.

Exercise can also have significant improvement on your wellbeing and quality of life, helping to relieve stress related to the disease and treatment.


Published: March 2018

Next planned review: March 2020