Exercising after cancer treatment

Individuals who have completed cancer treatment and are ready to advance their activity level through exercise should always talk to their oncologist to ensure safety with exercise. Most people are able to slowly increase exercise time and intensity as their treatment side effects lessen. Remember to take your time and be patient with yourself as you gradually increase your activity. 

Try to include physical activity that uses large muscle groups such as your thighs, abdomen (belly), chest and back. Strength training, stretching and aerobic fitness are all important parts of a good exercise program. 

Try to include exercises that will help you keep muscle mass and bone strength, like exercising with a resistance band or light weights. You might want to include exercises that will increase your flexibility and keep the range of motion in your joints. 

Always start with warm-up exercises for two to three minutes. Examples of warm-up exercises are shoulder shrugs, lifting arms overhead, toe-tapping, marching and knee lifts. 

End your exercise session with stretching or flexibility exercises. Hold a stretch for about 15 to 30 seconds and relax. Examples of stretching are reaching overhead, deep breathing and bending over to touch your toes so that you relax all the muscle groups. 

Gradually build up to 150-300 minutes of moderate activity each week; walking is an excellent way to meet this goal. Include resistance training exercises and stretching exercises at least two days per week. 

Exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, body composition, fatigue, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, happiness and several quality-of-life factors in cancer survivors. Exercise can also help individuals who are returning to work after cancer treatment, as regular exercise can improve energy levels and decrease feelings of tiredness or fatigue.

As a reminder, always check with your oncologist before attempting any type of exercise to avoid unnecessary harm.


"Physical Activity and the Person with Cancer," American Cancer Society, accessed March 28, 2023, 


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Joanna Collins, OT/L

Specialties: Rehabilitation Services

Joanna Collins is the supervisor of Rehabilitation Services at Northside Hospital. She has more than 30 years of experience and leads the Northside rehab team in developing and providing patient-centered oncology treatment guidelines and programs.

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