Physical activity

Be active

Evidence suggests that maintaining a healthy weight throughout life is one of the most important ways to protect against many types of cancer, and doing some physical activity every day can help achieve this.

Benefits of being physically active

Even if you are not overweight, sitting for long periods (sedentary behaviour) and insufficient physical activity can increase your risk of developing some types of cancer. Collectively, being overweight or obese, being physically inactive, and eating unhealthily are second only to tobacco as preventable risk factors for cancer.

Regular physical activity can:

  • Decrease your risk of cancer and chronic disease
  • Improve cardiovascular fitness
  • Help maintain a healthy body weight
  • Improve bone density
  • Reduce stress and improve mood
  • Improve overall health and wellbeing

Take time to be active

Australia’s National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend accumulating

  • 150–300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week, or
  • 75–150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per week.

Moderate intensity physical activity requires some effort, but conversation is possible. Vigorous intensity physical activity makes you huff and puff.

Being active is not just about planned exercise – you should aim to move your body throughout the day.

To increase your physical activity:

  • Start at 30: Begin with moderate intensity activities (walking, housework, gardening) for 30 minutes.
  • Aim for 60: The more physically active you are, the more you reduce your cancer risk. As your fitness improves, aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity a day.
  • Huff and puff to halve your time: If your fitness allows, aim to do vigorous intensity activities (fast swimming, cycling or jogging) for 30 minutes every day.
  • Make time throughout the day: If you are time poor, break your activity into three blocks of at least 10 minutes each day.
  • Remember to consult a GP or health care professional before starting any new exercise regime.

Tips and hints

  • Contact your local council to find out about free or low-cost activities in your area.
  • Include friends and family in your regular activities for company and motivation.
  • Ride a bike or walk to work, school, university or to the shops.
  • Stand on public transport and get off a stop earlier than you normally would and walk the rest of the way.
  • Park your car 10-15 minutes from where you need to be and walk the rest of the way.
  • Choose the stairs over the lift.
  • Deliver a message in person, instead of phone or email. If you are on the phone, stand or walk around.
  • Organise a ‘walk and talk’ meeting rather than a sit-down meeting
  • Plan family activities that let you all ‘huff and puff’ – a bush walk, park visit or bike ride.
  • Remember to drink water before, during and after activity and be SunSmart when outdoors.

Exercise for people living with cancer

Exercise for People Living with Cancer is a booklet which has been prepared to help you understand the importance of exercise, and to provide information about the benefits of exercise during and after cancer treatment. We have included tips on exercise preparation, plus some examples of exercise techniques that you can do at home.

Download Exercise for People Living with Cancer  or order a hard copy.

Accompanying this booklet is a series of videos which have been designed to enhance the effectiveness of the booklet by providing clear demonstrations of how to perform each move and support people to undertake the exercises safely and correctly.

Watch the exercise videos here.

Physical activity after cancer

Cancer survivors may benefit from maintaining or adopting a healthier lifestyle after their cancer treatment.

There is evidence to show that weight management, physical activity and a healthy diet may:

  • Improve the quality of life of cancer survivors
  • Reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
  • Extend life and increase cancer survival.

These lifestyle changes can also help prevent other health problems such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.

Find out more about living well after cancer or download the Living Well After Cancer booklet

More information

Access the Healthier. Happier Fitness videos for practical ideas around the home or the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines.

To learn more about what Cancer Councils across Australia are doing to support Australians to take time to be active every day, view the National Cancer Prevention Policy.

See our Disclaimer.