Exercise and Cancer

Minutes to read

Exercise and Cancer

The relationship between exercise and cancer is a thoroughly documented one and by the end of this blog I hope to provide you with a wealth of helpful and exciting information on this topic.

Not only does regular physical activity help us prevent the diagnosis of cancer, there is also evidence to show that it may help to reduce the risk of death from cancer if diagnosed.

An association has been documented between a reduction in the incidence of specific cancers – more specifically, colon cancer and breast cancer with Paffenbarger et,al. (1992) finding that increased levels of physical activity reduced the risk of colon cancer in men.

Sesso et.al (1998) found an inverse relationship between exercise and breast cancer among post-menopausal women. The paper found that an expenditure of >1000 kcal per week showed the greatest trend between exercise amount and the risk of breast cancer development.

Another paper by Rockhill et al. (1999) also found a strong relationship between exercise and reduced risk of breast cancer. Women who engaged in 7 hours or more of physical activity per week had a 20% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who were less active - that is a huge reduction in risk!

A preventative effect has been found for those achieving 150-300 minutes/per week of moderate or 75-150 minutes/week of vigorous aerobic exercise for the following cancers:

-       Bladder

-       Breast

-       Colon

-       Endometrial

-       Oesophageal

-       Kidney

-       Stomach

Given that the above listed cardiovascular exercise is one part of the current recommended exercise guidelines for health it is highly achievable and is clearly beneficial.

How does exercise help those who have already been diagnosed with cancer?

There is limited research available on the link between physical activity and the prevention of death from cancer but Holmes et al (2005) have shown that physical activity after a breast cancer diagnosis may reduce the risk of death from the disease. Women who exercised the equivalent of walking 3-5 hours per week at a moderate pace showed the greatest benefit!

When looking at the effects of exercise on the health-related outcomes of those diagnosed with cancer we see that the amounts needed to see a positive benefit are very achievable. The current evidence shows that regularly completing the amounts listed below of aerobic exercise, resistance exercise and a combination of both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise will show positive benefits in relation to:

-       Cancer-Related Fatigue

-       Health related quality of life

-       Physical function

-       Anxiety

-       Depression

-       Lymphedema (Campbell et al., 2019)


Aerobic exercise only: 3 x 30-60 minutes per week at a moderate intensity

Resistance exercise only: 2x between 8-15 repetitions of major muscle groups at a moderate intensity. At this stage there is insufficient evidence to show benefit for cancer related anxiety and depression.

A combination of Aerobic and Resistance exercise:

2-3x week of 20-40 minutes of aerobic exercise with 2x weekly sessions of resistance training between 8-15 repetitions of major muscle groups at a moderate intensity.(Hayes, Newton, Spence and Galvão, 2019)

This is quite encouraging as the amounts listed above are quite achievable and inclusive within the current ACSM guidelines for exercise which all individuals should strive to complete. This can also be accomplished at home or in a gym/healthcare setting if preferred.

Overall, it is quite clear that exercise has many positive benefits for those living with cancer and is incredibly helpful at reducing our risk of developing several common cancers. There is no better time to start exercising to enjoy these benefits and we are here to help those that need help getting started. 


Lee, I., Paffenbarger, R. and Hsieh, C., 1992.Physical Activity and Risk of Prostatic Cancer among College Alumni. AmericanJournal of Epidemiology, 135(2), pp.169-179.

Sesso, H., Paffenbarger, R. and Lee, I., 1998.Physical activity and breast cancer risk in the College Alumni Health Study(United States). Cancer Causes Control, 9(4), pp.433-439.

Rockhill, B., Willett, W., Hunter, D., Manson,J., Hankinson, S. and Colditz, G., 1999. A Prospective Study of RecreationalPhysical Activity and Breast Cancer Risk. Archives of Internal Medicine,159(19), pp.2290-2296.

Holmes, M., Chen, W., Feskanich, D., Kroenke, C.and Colditz, G., 2005. Physical Activity and Survival After Breast CancerDiagnosis. JAMA, 293(20), p.2479.

Campbell, K., Winters-Stone, K., Wiskemann, J.,May, A., Schwartz, A., Courneya, K., Zucker, D., Matthews, C., Ligibel, J.,Gerber, L., Morris, G., Patel, A., Hue, T., Perna, F. and Schmitz, K., 2019. Exercise Guidelines for Cancer Survivors: Consensus Statement from International Multidisciplinary Roundtable. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 51(11), pp.2375-2390.

Hayes, S., Newton, R., Spence, R. and Galvão, D.,2019. The Exercise and Sports Science Australia position statement: Exercise medicine in cancer management. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport,22(11), pp.1175-1199.

Contact Us

It starts with a Conversation

Ready to take the next step? Contact us today to discuss your needs and start your journey to better health. Let's talk!