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How to safely exercise with lung cancer

Lung cancer is the fifth most common cancer in Australia. It occurs when abnormal cells grow and multiply in one or both lungs. Lung cancer can also spread to other parts of the body including the brain, bones, liver and lymph nodes. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for about 85% of cases, whereas small cell lung cancers (SCLC) account for about 15%. Mesothelioma is another rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and is usually due to asbestos exposure.

Exercise can be an intimidating prospect for people diagnosed with lung cancer, especially if breathing is difficult at rest. However, evidence suggests that exercise is safe for people with lung cancer and beneficial for managing some side effects. In a 2019 Cochrane Review exercise was found to improve the fitness and quality of life of people with lung cancer.

Evidence suggests that exercise is safe for people with lung cancer and beneficial for managing some side effects.


  • Reduce fatigue & inflammation

  • Maintain independence and activities of daily living

  • Increase muscle strength

  • Improve ability to tolerate walking

  • Improve your mood

  • Improve circulation

  • Reduce the risk of other chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes, heart conditions and anxiety/depression

Exercise can be beneficial at any time of the treatment cycle from before treatment commences, all the way through to survivorship. People with advanced lung cancer can also achieve benefits with the right exercise guidance and pacing strategies.


It’s important to try and stay as physically active as possible and avoid long periods of sitting or lying down. Even small amounts of activity (eg. walking around the house) is better than none.

Engaging in different types of exercise provides different benefits

  • Aerobic exercise (walking, stationary cycling, swimming) can improve heart and lung function

  • Resistance exercise (weights, resistance bands, body weight) can improve muscle strength and function and building muscle can be beneficial for the immune system

  • Specific breathing exercises can help with activity pacing

  • Stretching and mobility exercise (eg yoga) improves joint and muscle range of motion

  • Balance exercise can help with movement confidence and safety


Some side effects of lung cancer and its treatment may require further caution when considering appropriate exercise. These include:

  • Extreme breathlessness

  • Extreme muscle weakness

  • If cancer has spread to bones or brain

  • Anaemia or low haemoglobin

  • Compromised immunity – avoid public swimming pools and exercise facilities

  • Changes to memory or concentration

  • Peripheral neuropathy (changes in sensation in hands and feet)

Please mention any changes in your condition to your accredited exercise physiologist and medical team.

Our accredited exercise physiologists at Balanced Bodies Lifestyle Clinic can prescribe safe exercise options individualised to your current situation. Click the link below to book an appointment online.


1. Peddle-McIntyre CJ, Singh F, Thomas R, Newton RU, Galvão DA, Cavalheri V. Exercise training for advanced lung cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2019, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD012685. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012685.pub2


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