Outrunning Cancer-Related Fatigue – Is Aerobic Exercise the Cure?

Outrunning Cancer-Related Fatigue – Is Aerobic Exercise the Cure?


Cancer-related fatigue can be extremely burdensome for cancer patients and even cancer survivors, years beyond treatment. This feeling of weariness differs from standard tiredness as it does not go away with sleep and can greatly interfere with everyday tasks. As to what its causes are, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) believes factors to include:

  • Treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • Pain
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Medication side-effects
  • Nutritional issues

Consequently, it causes much distress for patients, with at least two-thirds of patients suffering from it.

While patients may be inclined to rest when dealing with this issue, the best piece of advice that they may be given is in fact, to make aerobic exercise a regular part of their therapy. But can this reduce the effects of fatigue?

How Aerobic Exercise Helps

Aerobic exercise is considered to be physical activity of moderate intensity that is performed over an extended period of time. Because of this, it is meant to get the heart pumping faster than normal.

When it comes to fighting against fatigue, this form of exercise can be a fantastic remedy. Clinical Haematologist Dr David Joske lists the ways that it assists patients with these being: reducing effects of chemotherapy, promoting immune function, and preventing muscle breakdown.

But it’s just as effective for the mental and emotional aspects of fatigue, with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Care reporting benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety.

There have been many studies undertaken to determine whether cancer-related fatigue is actually helped by aerobic exercise and the results have proven to be positive. One of these studies by BMC Cancer reveals that while the specific impact of aerobic exercise may vary among patients, there is nevertheless an impact to be seen.

Bearing in mind that it should not be of high-intensity, aerobic exercise can include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Dancing

How Much Exercise Do You Need Daily?

According to Dr. Joske, 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day is ideal.

But to gain the most benefits from their exercise regime, patients should pair this with a form of resistance exercise, meaning light gym work. This is because cardio exercise such as walking may not provide a proper workout for upper body muscles while resistance exercises will help to build or rebuild muscle.

However, patients are warned against overworking themselves, with Dr Joske emphasising that they should not expect to run marathons or push themselves to exercise every day.

Rather, patients should accept a ‘new baseline’, meaning considering their own abilities and limitations and beginning at a point where they are most comfortable. The rule of thumb for patients exercising during treatment is: “Don’t exercise so hard you can’t finish a sentence!”

Gemma Crotty is a volunteer blog writer for Solaris Cancer Centre from her home in Melbourne. Currently studying a Graduate Diploma in Communication at La Trobe University, she is considering a career in communications or journalism. Gemma has a strong humanities research background from her Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Sydney. She has a keen passion for writing and likes to find new ways to hone her skills and connect to others through her words.