Staying Healthy – Exercise and Nutrition

Staying Healthy – Exercise & Nutrition

Having cancer doesn’t mean you can’t still take control of your general health and wellbeing. By eating well and doing some exercise you’ll help increase your energy levels and keep side effects at bay. It might also help prevent your cancer from returning, for instance in cancers related to cigarettes and alcohol.

Your health care team will be able to provide you plenty of information on staying healthy during and after your cancer and recommend types of diet and books to help. Some resources are listed below.

Diet & Nutrition

Cancer and its treatment put many more demands on your body so eating well is more important than ever. There is no special eating plan that can cure cancer and generally, there are no special foods or food groups to eat or avoid if you have cancer.
For most people with cancer the best way to eat well is to eat a wide variety of foods from each of the food groups every day.
Eating well means increasing your vegetable and fruit intake, particularly dark green leafy vegetables, orange fruit and veg and high fibre fruit and vegetables. These are rich in antioxidants and vitamin A and C, known to help combat cancer. Try and avoid or reduce your sugar and salt intake and reduce your fat intake – unless you are advised otherwise.

You may find you don’t want to drink alcohol at all, but it’s best to avoid it altogether if you can. If you do have a drink, try light beer or just half a glass of wine.

Giving up smoking will help your chances of your cancer not returning. If you’re struggling, talk to your doctor about ways to stop and contact Quitline on 13 78 48 (

Exercise is important to keep the body healthy, even though you might at times be or feel unwell. Even light exercise can help you feel better, strengthen your body and focus your attention.

There have been many studies that show clear evidence that a good level of physical activity helps prevent cancer and being physically inactive is responsible for some forms of cancer.

If you’ve not done any exercise for a while, it’s important to start off gradually. You might feel you’re limited by your cancer or treatment so check with your doctor first and they can also recommend a good form of exercise for you and how you can start.

If you’re reasonably fit and able, 2½-5 hours of moderate physical activity a week is recommended. Some form of muscle strengthening exercise twice a week is also recommended. With cancer it is vital that you stay hydrated during and after exercise. Have a water bottle nearby when you are exercising and take regular small sips.
Physical activity doesn’t have to be ‘exercise’ that we think of as a gym or a class. Incorporating activity into your daily life is a good way to keep fit. Working hard in the garden is a great physical activity and walking to the shops is classed as moderate. A fitness tracker like a FitBit or Garmin might help you realise just how much activity you do without realising it, and encourage you to do more.

Older people should also try and keep active, although at a reduced level than younger people. It’s recommended that those over 65 do at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, preferably most days.


Ass. Prof. Prue Cormie is an Exercise Physiologist whose research and clinical work focuses on the role of exercise in the management of cancer. Her research program seeks to understand the application of exercise as medicine for the management of cancer and involves the convergence of exercise science, cancer care and innovation in allied health services.



Exercise & Cancer
Being physically active when you’re receiving cancer treatment is recommended, based on what’s safe and works well for you and your limitations. You’ll also feel more motivated to do it if it’s something you enjoy doing.

The goal with exercise and activity during cancer is to stay as active as possible while still being limited by the type and stage of cancer you have, your treatment and your stamina and existing fitness level.

Always discuss your physical activity with your doctor and keep your health care team aware of your exercise program so they can monitor your progress and advise you of any specific exercises you either should or shouldn’t do.

When your treatment has finished, you may start to feel better very quickly but only increase your physical activity when you feel ready.

As exercise improves cardiovascular fitness, studies have shown that physically active cancer survivors have a lower risk of their cancer returning and improved survival compared with those people who are inactive.

How much should I do?

What and how much physical activity you do depends on a variety of factors, the most obvious one being how well you feel and your fatigue levels. These will vary from day to day depending on your treatment but as a general rule of thumb, you should try to spend as little time lying down or sitting as possible.

Consider how fit you were before you were diagnosed. If you were a more active person, you might be able to continue the same activities when you feel able to. Whatever type of activity you choose, don’t overdo it as you might overly tire yourself out and do more harm than good. Over time you’ll be able to build up, but appreciate that you’re not going to be as able as you were to complete what used to be normal for you.

Bear in mind what type of cancer you have as there may some exercises you need to be careful of. After your treatment ends and you’re recovering you can start to build up your activity levels gradually.


Proceed with care
It is important to discuss with your doctor or specialist the type of exercise you are considering to ensure it is safe.
It is best to start slowly and progressing in steps. You can start with a 10-minute walk around the block, and build up gradually to 30 minutes. Be careful not to do too much. If you were a regular at a gym before cancer, you may have to drop things down a tad for a while. Here are some other ideas:

  • If you can’t do a full half hour, try three 10-minute walks
  • Find a walking partner or listen to music – make it fun!
  • Wear comfortable clothes and drink water
  • Try gardening or house cleaning – both are small workouts.
  • Consider yoga and tai chi; they are not aerobic but they use movement and meditation and you will feel better
  • Listen to your body; don’t exercise if you’re not feeling well

Exercise as Medicine
The Australian Catholic University in collaboration with a consortium of hospitals, universities and cancer organisations recently launched EX-MED, a best practice exercise-medicine program for people with cancer.
Ass. Prof.Prue Cormie said EX-MED Cancer had the potential to change the face of cancer care in Australia and around the world.
“Based on what the research tells us, exercise is the best medicine people with cancer can take – in addition to their cancer treatments – to reverse treatment related side-effects, increase quality of life and extend their survival. Exercise can help patients live longer, tolerate aggressive treatments, minimise the physical declines and counteract cancer-related fatigue and distress” she said.
“If the effects of exercise could be encapsulated in a pill, this pill would be prescribed to every cancer patients worldwide. And even if this pill had just a fraction of the positive health benefits high quality exercise provides, it would be viewed as a miracle drug. The level of evidence now available means exercise medicine should be prescribed to every cancer patient in addition to their surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.”
Speaking at the launch, Ass. Prof.Cormie called on the government, health insurers and treatment facilities to increase funding for exercise facilities so all patients have access to cancer exercise treatment in hospitals and the community.


The ABC program Catalyst aired an episode of exercising with cancer in March 2017. You might find it helps you understand the importance of exercise during cancer.


Visit EX-MED at:

Fitness Monitors
FitBit (also at your local fitness or electronics store)

Fitness Fact-Sheets
Tips and ideas on how to build you physical activity:

Exercising During Cancer Treatment

Fight Cancer With Fitness


Watch the EX-MED Cancer Program Video


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