Physical activity after treatment
Research has suggested that staying active after cancer treatment can help lower the risk of cancer returning and lead to longer survival. Adopting a physically active lifestyle – that includes light to moderate exercise (such as walking, biking or swimming) every day – has many health benefits.
Being physically active often improves a person's quality of life. As part of your wellness plan, exercise can help improve your mood, improve your sleep, boost your self-esteem and reduce fatigue and stress. It is also an important part of helping you maintain a healthy body weight after cancer treatment.
Exercise may be recommended as part of your recovery after cancer or some cancer treatments, to help you maintain range of motion in joints and muscles and maintain mobility.
General exercise guidelines
Talk to your doctor or healthcare team before starting any exercise or physical activity routine. They can suggest activities or programs that are safe and effective for you after cancer treatment. They can also refer you to professionals, such as a physiotherapist or exercise specialist, who can tailor an exercise program to meet your interests and needs.
What you need to work toward is getting moderately active for about 30 minutes a day or almost every day. Moderate physical activity includes activities such as brisk walking, tai chi or water aerobics, but it can also include raking leaves, vacuuming or doing the laundry. You can achieve your overall goal of 30 minutes a day in 3 separate sessions of 10 minutes each.
As you get more fit and stronger, you can slowly start more vigorous physical activity like running, doing martial arts or swimming laps.
Keep the following suggestions in mind when you start getting active:
- Start any exercise program slowly. Any activity should take into account what you can do and any physical limitations you have.
- Begin any exercise slowly, and gradually increase the number of times you do it.
- Slowly try to return to your precancer physical activities.
- Include physical activity in your daily routines, such as doing housework, gardening or walking instead of driving.
- Do activities or exercises that are enjoyable or try a variety of activities to keep you interested.
- Walking is one of the easiest ways to stay active any time of the year.
- Swimming or aqua fitness classes might be a good choice if you have difficulty walking.
- If possible, try to include some exercises that help strengthen muscles, increase flexibility and maintain range of motion, such as weight training.
- Follow the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines when possible.
I’m extremely grateful to the Canadian Cancer Society for funding my research with an Innovation Grant.
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