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Cancer: ‘If exercise was a pill it would be prescribed to every patient’


The Physiotherapy Unit at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth is one of the UK’s leading physio centres, offering a comprehensive range of services at your convenience.

Katy Holden our Specialist Muscouloskeletal Physiotherapist discusses how the role of exercise can greatly benefit patients who are undertaking treatment for cancer.

You may have seen this statement recently in the news, following the launch of a position statement by the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) on exercise in cancer care.  This is a group of experts that have come together and reviewed the scientific research on the effects of exercise on cancer patients.

The key points made by COSA are:

  • Being physically active and exercising regularly is important for the health, function, quality of life and potentially survival of people with cancer
  • The majority of people with cancer do not meet exercise recommendations
  • People with cancer express a desire to become and stay sufficiently active but need advice and support to do so
  • To maximise safety and therapeutic effect, exercise should be prescribed and delivered under the direction of an accredited exercise physiologist or physiotherapist with a focus on transitioning to ongoing self-managed exercise

The lead researcher Prue Cormie is quoted as saying:

“Exercise is the best medicine someone with cancer can take in addition to their standard cancer treatments. That’s because we know now that people who exercise regularly experience fewer and less severe treatment side-effects; cancer-related fatigue, mental distress, quality of life.”

How much exercise is recommended? – COSA recommends that cancer patients be prescribed:

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, like walking, jogging, swimming and cycling, each week.
  • Two to three resistance exercises (e.g. lifting weights) each week.

Is this suitable for every cancer patient?

COSA acknowledge that not everyone that that is undergoing or that has completed cancer treatment, will be able to achieve this level of exercise, and as such, exercise prescription should be tailored to the individuals abilities to minimise the risk of complications and maximise the benefits.

The Physiotherapy Unit recommend that cancer patients discuss commencing exercise with their oncologist prior to embarking on an exercise programme.  This will ensure that the level of exercise is sensible as there are a lot of individual factors at play.  A physiotherapist can assist in setting an exercise programme that is tailored to the individual and progressed sensibly.

At present we are offering all new self-pay patients 50% off their first appointment. To learn more about our Physiotherapy treatment options you can visit our website or call us on 020 7806 4010.

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