The Importance of Exercise Rehabilitation for Cancer Patients

Cancer is a disease that has touched almost all our lives either personally or through family members and friends. Cancer treatment, consisting of some combination of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and/or immunotherapy may eradicate the tumour but often leaves us struggling to regain the quality of life we had prior to their cancer diagnosis. The evidence is compelling that EXERCISE improves psychological and physiological wellness, increases survivorship and reduces the side effects of cancer treatment. These side effects of treatment may include:

  • Lymphedema
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Depression
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Cognitive decline
  • Bone loss
  • Anemia
  • Impaired immune function
  • Secondary cancers

The Benefits of Exercise

  • Improvement in the quality of life during and after treatment
  • Improvement in the tolerance of cancer treatment
  • Improvement in physical function
  • No increased onset of lymphedema associated with breast cancer
  • Improvements in body composition
  • Protection from loss of bone mineral density
  • Reduction in cancer related fatigue
  • Reduction in sleep disturbances
  • Improvements in mood, and self-esteem
  • Reduced anxiety and depression

Exercise if you are able pre-cancer treatment, during treatment, post-treatment and also for cancer prevention.


Cancer Specific Guidelines on Exercise

General Exercise Recommendation: 

  • Frequency:  3-5 days/week
  • Intensity:  moderate- 60-80% of max heart rate
  • Time:  Starting Goal:  5-20mins   Target Goal: 35 – 60mins
  • Type:  Interval training (combination of aerobic and strength training)

*Please note that these are suggested guidelines.  Please consult your oncologist and/or physiotherapist prior to starting any exercise program.  Your physiotherapist can prescribe a safe and appropriate exercise program tailored to your individual needs.

Things To Remember

  • Physical activity can boost your energy levels
  • Regular exercise improves functioning of the immune system and may increase survival rates in some cases
  • Aim to exercise  3-5 days/wk
  • Set realistic goals for yourself.  For example, you may start exercising for 5 mins and then increase the time by 1min during your next exercise session.

Fascinating Facts:  Do You Know?

Exercise and Breast Cancer Survival: A study followed participants diagnosed with breast cancer from 1984-1998 to 2002: Results:

  • Increased survival by 20-50% with any physical activity volume greater than 3 met-hrs/wk
  • Decreased rate of Breast Cancer Recurrence by 20-40%

Exercise and Colorectal Cancer Survival: A study followed participants diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer between 1986-2002 to 2004:  Results:

  • Increased survival by 61% with physical activity volume 18 met-hrs/wk compared to <3met-hrs/wk
  • Increasing physical activity from pre- to post-diagnosis decreased colorectal cancer mortality by approximately 50%.

Exercise and Prostate Cancer: A study followed participants diagnosed with prostate cancer between 1990 and 2008:  Results:

  • 49% reduction in all-cause mortality with >3 hrs/wk vs. <1hr/wk of vigorous physical activity
  • 61% reduction in prostate cancer-specific mortality with >3hrs/wk vs. <1hr/wk of vigourous physical activity

Where to Get Help
*Speak to your oncologist
 *Book an appointment at Joint Rehab- Our physiotherapist will design an exercise     program for your individual needs. Treatment may also include manual therapy techniques to aid in your recovery. See lymphedema tab for more information.