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Aerobic and balance exercises

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise uses large muscle groups repetitively over an extended period of time and causes your heart and breathing rates to rise during the activity. This is sometimes called cardiovascular (cardio) exercise. This type of exercise may improve side effects, mood and energy levels.

How much exercise to do

Exercise at a level you are comfortable with, but try to vary how long (duration) and how hard (intensity) you exercise. You can start with a small amount and increase it gradually as you feel able.

Exercise intensity

How hard your body is working during physical activity is known as exercise intensity and is often described as low, moderate or vigorous. There are different ways to measure the intensity of your aerobic exercise. A simple method is the talk test.

How easy is it to talk?
  Exercise intensity
You can talk or sing at the same time. E.g. gentle walking, light gardening or slow cycling. Low
Your heart will beat faster, you’ll breathe harder than normal and you may start sweating. You’ll be able to speak but only in short sentences or have a slower than normal conversation. E.g. brisk or fast walking, water aerobics, dancing, tennis (doubles), cycling and swimming. Moderate
You’ll be sweating, puffing and your heart will be beating rapidly. You won’t be able to talk without pausing. E.g. aerobic/cardio classes, jogging, tennis (singles), and organised sports such as football, soccer or netball Vigorous

Balance exercises

Balance exercises are designed to help you to be stable while standing, walking or doing other activity. They may be important if you have been inactive for some time, and can help people with certain types of cancer that affect their stability, such as brain or other head cancers, or that affect a leg or leg strength. People with peripheral neuropathy or weak bones may also find balance exercises helpful.

Some balance exercises are simple and can be done by yourself, others may need someone to help you. You could also use a wall or a stable chair to provide support if needed. If you have a balance issue, a health professional can design a program for you. Take care when beginning and have someone with you if you are not doing exercises with an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist.

Some simple balance exercises

One-leg lift

  • Stand with feet hip distance apart.
  • Lift your arms to shoulder height and extend them out to the sides.
  • Lift your left foot off the floor and bend your knee to bring your heel towards your bottom.
  • Hold for up to 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
  • Do each side 3 times.

Tightrope walk

  • Use a line in floorboards or tiles, a line of tape or any straight line.
  • Like walking a tightrope, extend your arms out to the sides and walk slowly, being careful to keep your feet on the line at all times.
  • Walk from heel to toe, counting at least 5 seconds before each step, until you reach the end.

One-leg balance

Muscle group: Legs, stomach, side and back

Equipment: Chair (optional)

  1. Stand on a soft but firm surface, such as an exercise mat or carpet.
  2. Slowly bend one knee to lift the foot off the ground so that you are balancing on the other leg. Keep your eyes on a fixed point in front of you and breathe slowly and deeply. Hold the pose for several seconds if you can.
  3. Lower your leg and put your foot back on the ground. Repeat the exercise with the other leg.

You may want to start near a chair or wall so you can steady yourself. For a challenge, put your hands on your head as you balance and/or close your eyes. Aim to increase the duration by a few seconds each week.

One-leg balance


Exercise for People Living with Cancer

Download our Exercise for People Living with Cancer booklet to learn more and find support.

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Expert content reviewers:

Kirsten Adlard, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, The University of Queensland, QLD; Dr Diana Adams, Medical Oncologist, Macarthur Cancer Therapy Centre, NSW; Grace Butson, Senior Physiotherapist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Kate Cox, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Wai Yin Chung, Consumer; Thomas Harris, Men’s Health Physiotherapist, QLD; Clare Hughes, Chair of Cancer Council’s Nutrition, Alcohol and Physical Activity Committee; Jen McKenzie, Level 1 Lymphoedema Physiotherapist, ESSA Accredited Exercise Physiologist, The McKenzie Clinic, QLD; Claudia Marck, Consumer; Dr David Mizrahi, Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Research Fellow, The Daffodil Centre at Cancer Council NSW and The University of Sydney, NSW; Prof Rob Newton, Professor of Exercise Medicine, Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Edith Cowan University, WA; Jason Sonneman, Consumer.

Page last updated:

The information on this webpage was adapted from Exercise for People Living with Cancer (2023 edition). This webpage was last updated in September 2023. 

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