Exercise During and After Cancer Treatment: Level 2

This information explains how you can get enough exercise during and after your cancer treatment.

Talk with your healthcare provider before you start exercising more. Depending your cancer treatment plan, you may need to avoid or adjust some exercises or activities. If you had surgery, always ask your surgeon if it’s safe before you start exercising more.

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Physical Activity and Exercise

Physical activity is any movement of the body that uses energy. Some of your daily life activities such as doing active chores around the house, yard work, or walking the dog are examples of physical activity.

Exercise is a type of physical activity. When you exercise, you do body movements that are planned, structured, and repeated to improve or maintain your physical fitness level. Try to include the following activities to get the health benefits of exercise:

  • Activities that make you breathe harder, such as brisk walking, running, dancing, swimming, and playing basketball.
  • Strengthening exercises, such as push-ups and lifting weights. These exercises can make your muscles stronger.
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Benefits of Exercise

Exercise may help:

  • Lower your risk of getting some types of cancers, such as breast and colon cancer.
  • Lower your risk of cancer recurrence (the cancer coming back). This is most important for people with a history of breast and colorectal cancer.
  • Improve your overall cardiovascular (heart) health.
  • Control your weight and improve your body image.
  • Improve your quality of life and overall mental health.
  • Keep your bones, muscles, and joints healthy.
  • Improve your ability to do activities of daily living.
  • Prevent you from falling.
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Recommended Amount of Exercise

Experts recommend the following:

  • Try to get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week. The table in the section “Exercise Intensity levels” gives examples of moderate and vigorous intensity exercise.
    • You can do this by exercising for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week at a moderate intensity or for 15 minutes, 5 days a week at a vigorous intensity.
    • In general, 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise provides the same benefits as 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.
    • You can combine the moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise. For example, you could do 3 days of moderate-intensity exercise for 30 minutes each day and 2 days of vigorous-intensity exercise for 15 minutes each day.
  • Aim for 2 to 3 strength training sessions per week. These sessions should include your major muscle groups: your chest, shoulders, arms, back, abdomen (belly), and legs. Push-ups, sit-ups, using resistance bands, and lifting weights are examples of strength training activities.
  • Stretch your major muscle groups 2 to 3 times a week.

As part of a healthy lifestyle, you should do general physical activity every day. You should also avoid long periods of not moving, such as sitting for hours at a time.

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Exercise Intensity Levels

Light-intensity Exercise Moderate-intensity Exercise Vigorous-intensity Exercise
Leisurely biking Biking on level ground with hills Biking faster than 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour)
Slow walking Brisk walking Race walking, jogging, running
Light housework Gardening Aerobics or fast dancing
T’ai Chi Yoga High intensity yoga or Pilates
Playing catch Doubles tennis Singles tennis
Bowling Water aerobics Swimming (fast pace or laps)
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Increasing Your Exercise

  • Talk with your healthcare provider before you increase your exercise level if you experience a worsening or changing condition (such as your lymphedema getting worse).
  • If you’re already meeting the weekly exercise goals, you can gain even more health benefits by slowly adding more time to your weekly routine. Make a goal of doubling your weekly exercise time to 5 hours.
  • Instead of doing only moderate-intensity exercises, replace some of it with vigorous-intensity exercises, which will make your heart beat even faster. Adding vigorous-intensity exercise provides benefits in less activity time. If you want stronger muscles, you can also try increasing your strength training from 2 to 3 days a week.
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Tips for Success

  • Pick an activity that you like that fits into your life.
  • Set short-term and long-term goals. For example, you can plan to run 1 mile a day for a week, then work your way up to 3 miles.
  • Consider using a pedometer, which tracks your steps, or a wearable fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit®. These will help you monitor your progress.
  • Track your time and progress on a chart. You can use the charts at the end of this resource. You can also try an app on your phone or tablet to monitor your progress.
  • Plan your activity for the week.
  • Join a fitness group.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about good activities to try.
  • Try activities you haven’t done before.
  • Find an exercise you enjoy. Focus on having fun.
  • Slowly add more time, intensity, and effort to your exercise sessions.
  • Try to include exercise that uses large muscle groups, such as your thighs, abdomen, chest, and back.
  • Start with warm-up exercises for about 2 to 3 minutes. For example, you can do shoulder shrugs, march in place, or knee lifts. End your exercise session with light stretching.
  • Recognize and reward your achievements. For example, if you reach your exercise goal, reward yourself by buying new exercise clothing or a new book.
  • Stay safe and avoid injuries. Choose activities that are appropriate for your fitness level. Be sure to also use the right safety gear and sports equipment.
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Additional Resources

These resources show how you can add exercise and physical activity to your daily life. They offer exercise tips depending on the status of your cancer treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.

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Charts to Track Your Activity

Day Activity and intensity Minutes of exercise
Total minutes:    

Strengthening exercise

Day Activity
Total days:  
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