The consensus seems to be that the more you can keep your body moving, the better it will be for many (though not necessarily all) of your symptoms, your overall strength and stamina, and your state of mind.

Exercise may help to fight infection (primarily by increasing oxygen in the blood), reduce pain (by releasing opiate-like endorphins), strengthen joints, relieve constipation or nausea, encourage sleep, relieve stress and expose you to fresh air and sunlight.

Some people with advanced cancer will struggle to exercise, while others may overdo it. The type and amount of exercise you can manage depends on your cancer, treatment, symptoms and other factors which your doctor or relevant health professionals will need to take into account.

What may help

Talk to your Doctor

Even if you feel well enough to run a half-marathon, check with your doctor, physiotherapist or occupational therapist first. They will want to encourage your enthusiasm, but they will also know more about potential complications. Alternatively, they may be able to help you with symptoms that are preventing you from exercising, or with some advice on getting moving.

Work out with others

If you are capable of exercising but can’t get motivated try walking or cycling with a friend. Make sure they understand your limitations. You may find an exercise partner in a cancer support group.

Work out alone

Going at it alone may work if you are concerned about holding others back, or even a little awkward about your physical restrictions. You may simply enjoy the time alone.

Look for alterntives

If your choice of exercise is ruled out, there may be other things you can do. Swimming or cycling may replace weight-bearing activities such as jogging, walking, yoga or tai chi may be options. If you are not into exercise as such, maybe dancing or gardening will interest you.

Tips

Some general guidelines for exercising when you have advanced cancer:

  • Listen to your body - if it is screaming for you to stop, then perhaps you should.
  • Give yourself a day's rest after chemotherapy and other taxing treatments.
  • Try working out in short daily bouts, as opposed to one gruelling session a week.
  • If you are too exhausted to work out, some stretching or taking a stroll outdoors may suffice.
  • If you are bedridden, speak to a physiotherapist about any exercise you can do.

For more information

  • Seek advice through the Cancer Council Helpline (13 11 20).
  • The Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel has a useful fact sheet on Cancer – Exercise to Help You Cope.
  • Life, Hope & Reality was developed and written by Afaf Girgis, Claire Johnson, and Sylvie Lambert with funding from the NHMRC and Cancer Council NSW.

    Last updated 30 August 2015