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Childhood Cancer: Exercise Safety Tips


Physical activity is essential for any child, but what is safe if my child has cancer?


by Nicole Culos-Reed, PhD 1 and Carolina Chamorro Vina, PhD 2

1 Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary; Adjunct Professor, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary; Researcher, Psychosocial Resources, Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Calgary Alberta

2Adjunct Assistant Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary


As professionals in the area of physical activity and health, we know that physical activity is an essential component of healthy development for any child. Physical activity guidelines indicate that children need to be active at least 60 minutes every day for healthy growth and development.  It is important that children develop this healthy behaviour at a young age, as they are then more likely to continue with activity, and thus enjoy its benefits throughout their life. Benefits of regular physical activity for children include:

  • better self-esteem
  • stronger bones, muscles and joints
  • better posture and balance
  • a stronger heart
  • a healthier weight
  • social interaction with friends
  • learning new skills while having fun
  • better focus and concentration and greater academic success

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, parents have many questions and concerns. For a child with cancer, the impact and potential benefits of physical activity are even more important. This is due to the many potential negative side effects associated with the cancer and the subsequent treatments. For example, after treatment, you may notice physical issues with balance, fatigue, muscle strength and endurance. Your child may become easily tired or fatigued after a short period of play.  You may also notice changes in your child’s social involvement, confidence, or self-esteem. Physical activity can be a powerful tool to help with all of these issues – physical and psychosocial. Our previous blog highlighted some of these issues, and the potential role for physical activity.


There is a lot of information from a variety of sources, on the evidence for physical activity, what your child should or can do, and resources to increase physical activity levels.  To support parents’ ability to harness the potential benefits of physical activity for their child with cancer, we created POEM – the Pediatric Oncology Exercise Manual. POEM is a comprehensive and easy way to learn about the role of physical activity for children with cancer. The contributors to the POEM have taken the evidence about the role of physical activity, and translated it into a powerful tool for families.


POEM has two versions – one for the health and fitness professionals working in pediatric oncology, providing them with the best evidence available to create a physical activity plan for your child. The other version is for you, the families – to inform you about the evidence and provide many of the tips and strategies that will help you provide a safe and supportive physical activity environment for your child. POEM will answer questions that you might have regarding what your child can do during their cancer journey. If you want to learn more about POEM, the educational sessions at select locations, or be able to tell your physician about it, please visit the POEM website at: to download your free copy of the POEM family version.


Poem1Here are what families and professionals have said about POEM:

 “As a parent with a child with cancer our entire world has changed forever.  Being overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness is now part of our every day. Treatment and procedures are not in our control. However there is one thing we as parents can take charge of: helping and encouraging our kids to exercise. This manual will help guide you through this and answer many questions you may have.  After Lydia’s brain cancer treatment was completed we struggled to find a sport she could participate in, we also had many reservations on how to go about getting her moving. Since starting the Pediatric cancer patients & survivors Engaging in Exercise for Recovery (PEER) program, I watched my daughter learn how to gain strength, balance, coordination,  confidence and most of all have fun exercising!” Angela Massiah, Mom of Lydia, a 7 years old cancer survivor.

“… The POEM manual is an excellent guide to educate health care professionals and families on the theory and practicality of exercise and physical activity in pediatric cancer. It is thorough, and takes into account the variety of treatment and recovery stages of an individual undergoing cancer therapy, yet it is also easy to read. I know that reading this book will impact the way I practice and look at physical activity in children, adolescents and young adults with cancer.” – Tiffany Rent, RN, MN. Clinical Nurse Oncology/Neuro-Oncology. Alberta Children’s Hospital

For those families in the Calgary area, come and check out our PEER program. PEER – Pediatric cancer patients and survivors Engaging in Exercise for Recovery – is our opportunity to put the evidence from POEM into action! This community-based exercise program is operated by Kids Cancer Care, in partnership with the Health and Wellness Lab.



Nicole Culos-ReedNicole Culos-Reed, Ph.D., Professor, Health & Exercise Psychology, Faculty of Kinesiology, Adjunct Professor, Department of Oncology, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary. Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed is a Professor in Health and Exercise Psychology in the Faculty of Kinesiology, and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Oncology in the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary. Dr. Culos-Reed also holds a Research Associate appointment with the Department of Psychosocial Resources, Tom Baker Cancer Centre. As a health behaviour change researcher, her work examines physical activity for cancer survivors, utilizing an interdisciplinary perspective. The goal of this research is to develop physical activity programs that positively impact the myriad of physical and psychological factors that cancer survivors experience, ultimately enhancing their quality of life.



CarolineChamorroCarolina Chamorro-Vina, Ph.D., Adjunct Assistant Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary; Programmer, Kids Cancer Care. Carolina completed her Bachelors degree in Physical Education and Sports in Uruguay. Upon completion, she completed her Masters in Exercise Prescription and Health and her Ph.D in Biomedicine and Health, at the University Europea de Madrid. She has been working successfully in this field since 2004. Her Post-Doctoral research with Dr. Culos-Reed explored exercise programming for childhood cancer patients and survivors at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Carolina is currently working with Kids Cancer Foundation in Calgary to bring the PEER program to the community, and advance the knowledge of families as well as health care professionals on the role of physical activity in childhood cancer.



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