Content Map Terms
Clinical research shows that being physically active is safe and effective in counteracting many of the adverse physical and psychological effects of cancer and its treatment.
To date, the strongest evidence exists for improving physical function (including aerobic fitness, muscular strength and functional ability), attenuating cancer-related fatigue, alleviating psychological distress and improving quality of life across multiple general health and cancer-specific domains.
Physical Activity and Cancer
Emerging evidence shows that regular physical activity before, during and/or following cancer treatment decreases the severity of other adverse side effects and is associated with reduced risk of developing new cancers and comorbid conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.
Epidemiological research suggests that being physically active provides a protective effect against cancer recurrence, cancer-specific mortality and all-cause mortality for some types of cancer (research has predominantly focused on breast, colorectal and prostate cancers).
Most people with cancer indicate a desire to participate in appropriately designed and supervised physical activity programs, yet a small minority, are engaging at sufficient levels.
Canadian guidelines recommend that exercise be a part of standard practice in cancer care. Refer clients to an accredited exercise physiologist and/or physiotherapist with experience in cancer care. They can prescribe and deliver exercise with a focus on transitioning to ongoing self-managed exercise.
All people with cancer, unless advised otherwise, should avoid being inactive. People with cancer should aim for at least:
- 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on 3 days per week. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming.
- 20-30 minute sessions of resistance exercise (e.g., lifting weights) on at least 2 days per week. The resistance exercises should include one exercise per major muscle group, 8-15 repetitions per set, 2 sets per exercise, progressing with small increments (starting with at least 60% of one repetition maximum).
Canadian Cancer Society
Type 'physical activity' in the search box to find a variety of physical activity resources.
Exercise for People with Cancer (Cancer Care Ontario, Canada)
A guideline and summary as well as guideline-based clinical tools.
Active Living for Older Adults in Treatment for Cancer - Framework for Program Design (University of Waterloo, Canada)
An extensive framework for designing a program for older adults including referral, assessment, prescription, staffing, facility and equipment needs, costs, and funding.
Living well with Lymphoma: How to use exercise help? Research and Practical tips (Lymphoma Canada, Canada)
A presentation from a Living well with lymphoma event for clients and health care providers that covers side effects as well as the benefits of exercise and some practical tips. While this presentation was for lymphoma, much of the information is general and can be applied to many cancer populations. This presentation is the fourth one on the list.
Cancer Exercise Toolkit (Australia)
A resource designed to help health care professionals develop and implement oncology rehabilitation programs in their clinic or health service.
Guidelines for implementing exercise programs for cancer patients (Cancer Council Western Australia, Australia)
A guideline for health care professionals creating exercise programs for cancer clients.
Physical Activity Guides (Macmillan Cancer Support, United Kingdom)
A variety of physical activity resources to support people living with cancer to enjoy the health and emotional benefits of physical activity.
Physical activity in the treatment of long term conditions (British Medical Journal, United Kingdom)
This online course covers exercise prescription for many chronic conditions including cancer. It helps you understand why physical activity is an important part of cancer management and how to help your clients get started with exercise. The course is free but requires registration.
Physical Activity in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease (Swedish National Institute of Public Health, Sweden)
An online textbook providing comprehensive information about exercise prescription for clients with cancer in chapter 19.
Moving Through Cancer (Exercise is Medicine, USA)
An initiative with the mission to assure that all people living with and beyond cancer are assessed, advised, referred to, and engaged in appropriate exercise and rehabilitation programming as a standard of care. The webpage includes an exercise program registry, evidence based guidelines and clinical resources.
Last updated: November 2021