The treadmill pill: Helping patients fight cancer with exercise


Stronger together: Exercise Physiologist Joanna Jaques supervises a patient in Macquarie University Hospital’s on-site exercise program.

A new program in the Macquarie University Hospital is helping patients fight and recover from cancer through exercise.

With research increasingly pointing to the significant benefits of physical activity for patients with serious illnesses, MQ Health has recently started providing supervised exercise sessions for patients undergoing radiotherapy treatment.

The program is led by Joanna Jaques, an experienced Exercise Physiologist who has seen first-hand the transformative power of the exercise.

“I’ve been working with cancer patients for over 10 years and over that time I’ve seen increasing research which supports the benefits exercise can provide,” Joanna says. “Not only does it reduce side effects and improve quality of life during treatment, there is emerging evidence that it actually improves cancer outcomes – including survival.

“Our participants report more energy and see gains in their strength and fitness, but – importantly – also report a more positive outlook, demonstrating that exercise improves both physical and psychological wellbeing during cancer treatment.”

For Malcom Gallagher, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017, the impact of his illness on his fitness was of particular concern.

“I was a keen golfer and was regularly exercising before my diagnosis,” he recalls. “As my health worsened, I was unsure about whether I’d be able to continue doing what I enjoyed.”

In combining his treatment at the Hospital with the supervised exercise program, Malcolm found that he was not only able to maintain his fitness, but actually improve it.

“Being involved in the program gave me a better understanding of what I was physically capable of,” Malcolm says. “Before I started, I had an old football injury and couldn’t fully raise my right arm. Now I don’t notice any pain and I can even raise my arm above my head.”

Another participant Rhona Lawson says the program was a great source of encouragement, especially during the more difficult days of her radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer.

“Working with people who know the ups and downs of radiation made a difference,” she says. “The staff motivated me in a firm, yet gentle, way, and their feedback and compassion made me feel like I had support around me, so I could focus on getting better.”

Both Rhona and Malcolm continue to see exercise as an important role in their recovery.

“I lost six kilograms on the program, but the holistic approach also helped me psychologically to settle into my radiotherapy treatment,” says Malcolm. “As a bonus, it also improved my golf swing!” 

For more information about the Exercise during Radiotherapy program or other programs available for cancer patients at MQ Health contact the Exercise Physiology Clinic.





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