You may be coping with side effects during cancer treatment and for a while after it’s finished. Occasionally some side effects are permanent, and some even develop years after treatment (late effects).
Regular physical activity may help you to manage some on-going side effects or reduce the risk of certain late side effects.
Feeling as if you have no energy (fatigue) is a very common treatment side effect. It can sometimes last for months after treatment. Being more active can help you to manage fatigue. Even a small increase in activity can help to improve your energy levels.
For most people, taking short walks, preferably every day, is a good way to be active. Walk at a comfortable pace for you. Don’t push yourself too hard. Doing too much, too soon, may make you more tired. Simple strength exercises such as ‘sit to stand’, yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong can also be helpful when your energy levels are low.
Manage stress, anxiety, low mood or depression
Stress, anxiety and low mood are common problems during and after treatment. Physical activity encourages the brain to produce chemicals (endorphins) that improve mood and reduce stress. Being active with other people – by joining a group or going with friends or family – can really help. So can being active outdoors, in a green environment such as a park. You could try gardening or joining a walking group. Yoga is another activity that can relax you and reduce stress.
Improve bone health
Hormonal therapies for breast and prostate cancer, and having an early menopause due to chemotherapy can increase the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis). Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, dancing or resistance training, help keep our bones strong. If you have osteoporosis, get advice on exercise from your physiotherapist, doctor, nurse or exercise specialist. We have more information about bone problems.
Improve heart health
Some treatments may slightly increase the risk of heart problems in the future. These include radiotherapy that’s given close to the heart and certain chemotherapy or the targeted therapy drug trastuzumab (Herceptin®). Aerobic activities may help to protect your heart and reduce the risk of late effects developing. Brisk walking, running, skipping, cycling, dancing and swimming are all aerobic activities.
Build muscle strength
You may lose muscle bulk and strength during and after treatment, when your muscles aren’t being used as much as usual. It’s also a side effect of hormone therapy for prostate cancer and steroids. Strength training, such as climbing stairs, moving from sitting to standing and resistance training using light weights will help increase your muscle strength.
Keeping to a healthy weight
It’s not uncommon to gain weight during treatment as you’re less active than usual. Hormonal therapy drugs and steroids, which are sometimes given with chemotherapy, can also cause weight gain.
Keeping to a healthy weight helps to reduce the risk of getting other health problems, and problems with your joints.
Being very overweight increases the risk of some cancers, particularly breast, womb and bowel cancer. So being active and keeping to a healthy weight can reduce the risk of getting another new (primary) cancer. It may also reduce the risk of certain cancers coming back. Our information about Weight management after cancer treatment may also be useful.
Being more active during the day helps you to relax and sleep better at night.
Prevent or control constipation
Certain chemotherapy drugs can cause constipation. Even a short walk each day, in combination with plenty of fluids and a high-fibre diet (unless your doctor advises against it) can make a difference.
Relieve pain and improve range of movement
Some types of surgery or certain chemotherapy drugs can damage to the nerves. This can sometimes make certain movements painful.
Some hormonal therapies may also cause painful joints. If you’ve been inactive for a while, this can add to any problems with pain and movement.
Regular physical activity helps ease pain in your joints by building your muscle strength and improving your flexibility. Joints that have a full range of movement are less likely to be sore. If you have sore joints, swimming and cycling are good because they put little strain on the joints.
Benefits of being active after treatment
Being physically active after treatment can be a positive step in helping you recover. It can help you to manage some side effects and may lower the risk of some late treatment side effects. It lowers your risk of getting other health problems. There’s also some evidence that it may help reduce the risk of certain cancers coming back.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) produce guidelines supported by the National Cancer Institute in America. Its advice is:
- Avoid being inactive.
- Physical activity is safe during and after cancer treatment.
- Get back to your normal day-to-day activities as soon as possible after treatment.
- Build up to the recommended physical activity levels gradually.