Being physically active after a cancer diagnosis not only improves survival for certain cancers but also your overall quality of life.17 Its important to avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after diagnosis and treatment.18 Returning to activity can limit loss of body function, muscle weakness, and reduced range of motion.
How Much Do I Need?
Before starting any physical activity it's important to check with your care team to make sure you are choosing activities that are safe and most effective for you. Once your health provider tells you it's safe to exercise it is recommended that cancer survivors start slowly and build up to 150-300 minutes of moderate (or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity) activity each week.17,19 Consider including muscle-strengthening activities and stretching at least 2 days each week.
There are many health benefits of regular physical activity before, during and after cancer treatment. Regular physical activity can lead to better sleep, more energy, and a stronger immune system.17,19 Staying active can also improve your mental health and increase your ability to complete everyday tasks and activities (grooming, cleaning, running errands, etc.). Other benefits include reduced feelings of tiredness, reduced treatment side effects, help getting to and maintaining a healthy weight and a reduced chance that some types of cancer will come back.1
Turn Everyday Tasks into Physical Activity
Activities you can do even in your everyday routine include:
- Take a walk after dinner.
- Mow the grass or rake the leaves.
- Scrub your bathroom.
- Wash your car.
- Walk your dog.
- Dance in your living room
- Use an exercise bike, or do arm curls, squats, and lunges while watching TV.
- Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
Special Considerations Based on Stage of Treatment
Becoming more active before treatment may help you handle treatment and recovery better. Research shows that being active may reduce complications from surgery, help you deal with distress, have more energy, and help you sleep better as you begin treatment.18 Sometimes people find being active more difficult as they start treatment. So, starting out in better physical shape can help you tolerate more activity during and after treatment.
There are multiple factors that can affect your ability to exercise during treatment. This includes the type and stage of cancer you have, the type of treatment you are undergoing, as well as your fitness level before and during treatment.18 The goal is to stay as active as you can. Whether you were very active or very inactive prior to cancer treatment you still may need to start off with short, low-intensity activity (such as short slow walks). Be sure to talk with your cancer care team about exercising during treatment and whether there are any limits to what you can do.
Recovering from Treatment:
Most people can slowly increase their physical activity time and intensity as their side-effects lessen.18 What may be a low-intensity activity for a healthy person may seem like a high-intensity activity for some cancer survivors. Take your time as you gradually increase your activity. Remember even a little bit goes a long way, never push yourself past your limits.
Reminders for Cancer Patients and Survivors
❖ Check with your health care team about what activities are recommended or appropriate for you.
❖ Start slowly: If you feel very tired, start by doing light exercises and build up each day.
❖ Stay away from uneven surfaces that could make you fall. Never exercise if you feel dizzy.17,19
❖ If you plan to exercise outside, don’t forget to dress appropriately for the weather and wear sunscreen all year round.
❖ If your risk of infection is high, you may need to avoid public gyms and crowds until your risk returns to normal.17,22
❖ Consider bringing a partner that can help you in case you have any trouble.
Interested in physical activity classes?
Strength for Life is a nonprofit organization that offers FREE physical activity classes for both cancer patients and survivors throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties. These classes allow for those with a cancer diagnosis to participate in groups and enhance their recovery process: strengthforlifeny.org.