Physical Activity

While it may be challenging, being active as possible during cancer treatment and recovery can help reduce stress or anxiety, improve your mood and self-esteem, boost your energy, stimulate your appetite, help you sleep and help you regain your strength during recovery. Exercise can also help reduce side effects like nausea, fatigue and constipation [9].

An analysis of the findings from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) suggest ‘that half of Canadians are not participating in the recommended amount of physical activity and are missing out on a variety of health benefits such as decreased risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, and improved bone and mental health’[…] [10]

‘[…] While individuals with cancer were less likely to be active than those who have never had cancer, cancer survivors had similar physical activity levels to the population levels. Activity levels in all three groups are much lower than recommended [11].’

How much physical activity you can do during cancer treatment often depends on your overall health and physical condition, how you cope with treatment and what side-effects you may have. Some people —for example, someone who has had breast surgery—may be given particular exercises to follow as part of their recovery [12].

General exercise guidelines during treatment [14]

Each person’s exercise program is unique and should be based on what is safe and works for them. Your goal should be to maintain endurance, strength and flexibility and keep you able to do the things you want to do. There may be times when you don’t feel able to exercise. However, the goal is to be as active as you comfortably can be. These tips may help:

  • Start slowly: try walking and slowly increasing how often and how long you walk.
  • Exercise when you have the most energy or feel the best
  • Gentle activity is better than nothing; sometimes just a few minutes of gentle stretching can make you feel better
  • If you don’t have the energy to exercise for a long period of time, break it up into shorter sessions throughout the day
  • Include physical activity that uses large muscle groups such as your thighs, abdomen, chest and back
  • Vary activities to include strength, flexibility and aerobic activities
  • Try something new like yoga, tai chi or dancing
  • Make exercise enjoyable by exercising with a friend or listening to music
  • Try to remain active within your daily routine
  • If you’re able, do housework such as vacuuming, washing floors and dusting. This is exercise too! Try doing a little every day instead of all at once
  • Mow the grass, wash the car or weed the garden
  • Walk instead of driving or park your car in a parking space a distance from your destination and walk to it
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Get some fresh air or try meditation exercises to help reduce fatigue
  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise. Stop and rest when you’re tired

Safety precautions

  • Before begin any exercise routine, consult with your clinician or oncologist
  • Don’t exercise if you have anemia or if mineral levels in your blood, such as sodium or potassium, are not normal
  • Avoid public places, such as gyms, if you have low white blood cell counts or a weakened immune system
  • Avoid uneven surfaces or any weight-bearing exercises that could cause falls or injury
  • If you have osteoporosis, arthritis, nerve damage or cancer that has spread to the bone, do not use heavy weights or exercise that puts too much stress on the bones
  • Avoid swimming pools if you are receiving radiation therapy as chlorine can irritate skin in the treatment area

[14] Information taken from the Canadian Cancer Society



[9] Neil, S. E., C. C. Gotay, and K. L. Campbell. “Physical Activity Levels of Cancer Survivors in Canada: Findings from the Canadian Community Health Survey.” Journal of Cancer Survivorship Research and Practice (2013): n. pag. Springer Link. Web. 15 July 2015.
[10] ibid.
[11] “Physical Activity during Cancer Treatment.” Canadian Cancer Society. Canadian Cancer Society, 2015. Web. 15 July 2015.
[12] ibid.
[14] “Physical Activity during Cancer Treatment.” Canadian Cancer Society. Canadian Cancer Society, 2015. Web. 15 July 2015.