Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise uses large muscle groups and causes your heart rate to rise during the activity. Heart and lung fitness are improved, and strenuous tasks become easier.

Popular forms of aerobic exercise include walking and cycling, but everyday activities such as digging in the garden also count. You can also build aerobic exercise into your daily routine, for example, by always walking up stairs instead of using a lift; parking some distance from your destination and walking the rest of the way; or riding a stationary bike while watching TV.

Types of aerobic exercise
  • Aerobics/cardio classes
  • Aquarobics
  • Boxing training
  • Bushwalking
  • Cleaning
  • Cycling
  • Dancing
  • Gardening
  • Golf
  • Jogging
  • Lawn mowing
  • Rowing
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Team sports
  • Tennis
  • Walking

How much?

You need to find a balance between not working hard enough and working too hard. If you do not work hard enough, you may not achieve your exercise goals. If you work too hard, you risk injury.

Exercise at a level you are comfortable with, but try to vary the duration and intensity (see below for an explanation of exercise intensity).

Adults should aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week (or 1.25 hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week). If you have just completed cancer treatment, this may seem ambitious, but it is a goal to work towards steadily. Remember that some exercise is better than none.

For extra health benefits, you can exercise beyond this recommendation by gradually increasing the frequency and duration of your exercise sessions and then increasing exercise intensity. If you were very fit before your cancer diagnosis, your goal may be to maintain or return to your weekly activity levels.

Measuring 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 are able to sing Light
You can carry on a conversation but need to pause for breath from time to time Moderate
You are huffing and puffing and keeping conversation short Moderate to vigorous
You find it difficult to speak Vigorous

Expert content reviewers:

Prof Sandi Hayes, Senior Research Fellow, ihop Research Group, School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology, QLD; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA, SA; Chris Pidd, Consumer; Steve Pratt, Nutrition and Physical Activity Manager, Cancer Council WA, WA; Kellie Toohey, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, University of Canberra, ACT.

Download PDF Order FREE booklet 

Talking bubbles icon

Questions about cancer?

Call or email our experienced cancer nurses for information and support.

Contact a cancer nurse