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Exercise Right Week 2022- Cancer & Exercise

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Cancer is one of the most prevalent diseases among our community, in Australia alone that’s 1 diagnosis every 4 minutes (Cormie, 2020). However, only 1 in 10 of those diagnosed will exercise enough before, throughout and post their treatment (Cormie, 2020). Exercise should be prescribed to all cancer patients as a part of their routine care plan. Exercise helps to lessen and mitigate the side effects of all cancer treatments and lowers the relative risk of dying from a particular cancer (Cormie, 2020). Cancer-related fatigue, muscle atrophy (muscle wasting) and joint pain are a few symptoms that are significantly improved with exercise (Cormie, 2020).

The phase prior treatment is referred to as ‘prehab’, throughout this strength training is the predominant goal and will be specific depending on the diagnosis. For example, prostate cancer involves a lot of pelvic floor training and trunk strength, this is then implemented into functional movement patterns. In comparison, goals prior to breast cancer treatment usually surround upper limb mobility and strength, as well strengthening the musculature surrounding the chest and back– otherwise known as primary and secondary breathing muscles.

Throughout cancer treatment we don’t necessarily aim to build muscle or improve strength, but instead maintain what was achieved throughout the prehab phase. Not only does this maintain muscle mass, but will also help with fatigue, joint pain and mental health.

Often chemotherapy, hormone therapy, surgery and radiotherapy tend to weaken all musculature, and in particular the targeted area in which the cancer was. Hence it is important that post treatment, and all throughout remission, strength training is continued to build this back up. This can have huge benefits on quality of life and make activities of daily living far easier. For example, post gastrointestinal surgery to remove a tumour, both abdominal muscles and pelvic floor can be strengthened to avoid the occurrence of a prolapse. At PROmotion we are lucky to have a combination of pelvic health physiotherapists and exercise physiologist to specialise in this area.

There is often a misconception regarding exercise throughout cancer treatment, in that one must do so for an extended period of time to achieve any benefits. Whilst evidence-based guidelines suggest 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise weekly (Cormie, 2020), along with two to three resistance sessions, this is not always realistic. In an ideal world and the case where one can do so, absolutely go for it. However, the stage of a chemotherapy cycle for example, will drastically change fatigue levels and readiness for exercise. Hence programs can be tailored to the individual and their particular situation. We can create a plan that works around them and is achievable -whether this is in the clinic or at home, a two-minute walk around their living room or a 30min gym session, and so on.

Exercise is both safe and very important for people with a cancer diagnosis, and can be tailored to the individual. At PROmotion Accredited Exercise Physiologist Briony Boultbee is available for C,A.R.E appointments. To book online click here, or to contact Briony on email to ask any specific C.A.R.E questions

Cormie, P., Trevaskis, M., Thornton-Benko, E., & Zopf, E. M. (2020). Exercise medicine in cancer care. Australian journal of general practice, 49(4), 169-174.

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