Exercise for People with Cancer: Evidence Based Recommendations

By: Julie Ennis, PhD.

Few will dispute the power of physical activity to improve overall physical and mental health. It’s challenging, if not impossible, to think of another intervention that has such broad benefits with essentially no negative side effects. More and more health care providers are prescribing exercise for both disease prevention and management.

A key element of evidence based healthcare, is the development of practice guidelines that support health care providers to screen patients, make specific recommendations and have evidence-based discussions of expected benefits and potential safety concerns. 

Cancer Care Ontario’s Exercise for People with Cancer Guideline Development Group has recently published clinical practice guidelines with the following key messages:

  • Moderate amounts of exercise are safe and recommended to improve the quality of life and fitness for people living with cancer while on active treatment or after completion of treatment.
  • Each week, people living with cancer should strive for:
    • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise spread over 3-5 days
    • Resistance training that involves major muscle groups at least 2 days per week
    • A warm-up and cool-down for each exercise session
  • People living with cancer may see the largest benefits from exercising in a group or supervised setting.
  • Before starting an exercise program, it is best to consult a health care provider to check for any effects of disease, treatments, and other conditions that may affect the types and amount of exercise that should be done.
  • Exercise is recommended on an ongoing basis as part of a healthy lifestyle so that improvements can be maintained for the long term.

The OICC is passionate about promoting healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as exercise, which benefit people living with cancer. We offer physiotherapy consultations  for an individual assessment and assistance with embarking on an exercise plan. Our gentle yoga classes, provide an opportunity to get active in a group-based setting.

This year, we are encouraging our patients, their families and friends, our staff and the broader Ottawa community to join the OICC Team at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. Walkers are welcome! In fact, the OICC will lead a group of walkers in the 5k event. Whether this is your first race or 50th, whether you are walking or running, we encourage you to take a step towards Changing How We Live With Cancer.


Segal, R., Zwaal, C., Green, E., Tomasone, J., Loblaw, A., & Petrella, T. (2017). Exercise for people with cancer: a clinical practice guideline. Current Oncology, 24(1), 40–46