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Exercise and blood cancer

Exercise before, during and after blood cancer treatment can have many benefits. 

Some people report concerns that exercise may not be safe during cancer treatment. Studies have shown it is in fact safe & beneficial to exercise.  If you have blood cancer, you should actually try to avoid inactivity and sedentary behaviour and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible following your diagnosis. 

People who participate in exercise before, during or following cancer treatment report improvements in: 

  • cancer-related fatigue 
  • pain 
  • psychological distress 
  • anxiety 
  • depression 
  • physical function 
  • bone health
  • cognitive function  
  • cardio-respiratory  fitness  
  • health-related quality of life. 

What are the benefits of exercise before, during, and after blood cancer treatment? 

Where possible, exercising before your treatment starts can help prevent deconditioning and lessen the side-effects you may experience during treatment. 

Exercising during treatment can help with treatment tolerance, support you to maintain activities of daily living and alleviate some of the cancer-related fatigue you might be experiencing. 

Exercising post cancer treatment can help with recovery and reduce the risk of further health issues. 

Maintaining your participation in exercise over time provides the greatest benefits. Exercise can be tailored to the individuals needs and abilities and often around activities of daily living. Before you commence any exercise program it is important to speak with your treatment team first to make sure it is safe  and to see who is best placed to help you.  

What exercise is recommended for people with blood cancer? 

The current recommendations for exercise from the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia are:

All people with a cancer diagnosis should progress towards and, once achieved, maintain participation in: 

  • at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes (1 ¼ hours) of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (eg: walking/jogging/swimming/cycling)  over each week 

AND 

  • two to three resistance-based (strength) exercise sessions (eg: lifting weights, therabands or using own body weightover each week. 
  • it is important to focus on activities that will help you gradually build strength but do not deplete your energy levels  

 The full Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA)  position statement can be be found  Here: https://www.cosa.org.au/media/332637/cosa-exercise-position-statement-april-2020-1.pdf 

Specific information for older people on exercising with chronic illness and some advice about healthy eating is available from the Australian Government’s “Choose Health: Be Active A physical activity guide for older Australians” brochure.
The amount and type of exercise recommended depends on your individual circumstances, including what you would like to achieve. Please discuss exercise with your treating team to ensure that your choice of exercise best suits your healthcare needs. 

How can I get exercise support? 

You can get support for starting an exercise program in variety of settings, such as in hospital as an inpatient, at a cancer treatment or community centre, in your home, or online via Telehealth services. 

  • Hospital Based Exercise Programs 

Speak to your hospital treating team to find out what exercise programs are available at your hospital. 

  • Speak to your local Blood Cancer Support Coordinator at the Leukaemia Foundation Discuss what exercise programs are available in your local area. 
  • Accessing an exercise professional online or face-to-face from your home 

Have a chat with your GP or talk directly to an exercise provider to see if they can support you with providing an exercise program online. Each provider will have their own software and system and will provide you with more details of what you will specifically need (e.g. an internet-enabled device such as an iPad or phone) if they offer a telehealth appointment service. Discuss your options if you are interested in face-to-face sessions. 

Tip: Consider accessing affordable community based exercise options as approved by your hospital treating team (e.g. yoga, pilates, tai chi, gym etc).  

Should I work with an exercise professional? 

A university-trained exercise professional (like an Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist) can assess your needs, and work with you to find the safest and most effective programme to suit your needs. 

Find an exercise professional via these links: 

Tip: Ask for an exercise professional with expertise in cancer 

What will it cost to see an exercise professional? 

Costs will vary depending on the type of exercise you choose to do and who is providing the programme. 

  • Chronic Disease Management Plan (eligible to those with a cancer diagnosis) 

Talk to your GP to access Medicare rebated sessions with an allied health provider (including Exercise physiologist  and Physiotherapist). Speak to your provider to see if there is a gap in cost.  

  • Private Health Care Rebates 

Contact your private health provider to see if any rebates apply. 

Additional resources about exercising and cancer treatment 

Cancer Related Fatigue and the role of Exercise by Exercise Physiologist Morgan Atkinson 

Dr Mike Evans – Cancer Related Fatigue 

Julie Allen – Exercise as treatment for lymphoma 

Maintaining an exercise routine

Dr Camille Short offers tips for sticking to your programme.

Maintaining an exercise routine