Being physically active after treatment

Being physically active after treatment is a positive step in your recovery. It may help you manage late effects of treatment. It may also reduce the risk of certain cancers coming back.

The benefits of physical activity after treatment

Being physically active after treatment is a positive step in your recovery and there are many health benefits. It may help reduce the risk of certain cancers coming back. It may also help you manage and reduce the risk of:

We have more information about physical activity and cancer.

How much activity is right for you?

After treatment ends, increase your activity slowly. If your treatment means you will stay on medicines for some years, you can still be physically active. Talk to your specialist nurse or GP about being referred to a physiotherapist or cancer exercise specialist. You can also call our Macmillan cancer information specialists for more information.

If you can, try to slowly increase the amount you do to the amount of activity recommended by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

We have more information on how to get started with physical activity and where to get help from professionals such as physiotherapists.

Physical activity and late effects

Late effects are side effects that may develop months or years after treatment ends. Not everyone will get late effects, but doing regular physical activity may reduce your risk. It can also help you manage late effects.

Heart health

Some treatments may slightly increase the risk of heart problems in the future. These include radiotherapy that is given close to the heart and certain chemotherapy or targeted therapy drugs.

Aerobic activities that are moderate intensity can help protect your heart and reduce the risk of late effects developing. The type of aerobic exercise you can do will depend on your ability.

We have more information about heart health.

Bone health

Hormonal therapies for breast cancer and prostate cancer can increase the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis). This can also happen if you have an early menopause due to cancer treatments.

Activities where you are supporting your own body weight will help keep bones strong. These are sometime called weight-bearing exercises. They include:

If you have osteoporosis, get advice on exercise from your doctor, nurse, physiotherapist or exercise specialist.

We have more information about exercising safely if you have bone problems and about looking after your bones.

Anxiety and low mood

Many people feel overwhelmed when they are told they have cancer. During and after treatment, you may have many different emotions. These include uncertainty, anxiety and depression.

Research has shown that being physically active during and after treatment can help improve your mood and confidence. Doing something positive for yourself can help you feel more in control.

Keeping to a healthy weight

Some people may gain weight because of cancer and its treatment. If treatment makes you feel tired, you may be less active than usual. Hormonal therapies and steroids can also cause weight gain.

Being active and eating healthily can help you manage your weight. Keeping to a healthy weight can help reduce the risk of:

  • joint problems
  • back problems
  • developing a new (primary) cancer – excess body fat has been linked to some bowel, breast and womb cancers.

Some people lose a lot of weight after cancer and its treatment. The amount of muscle you have may be reduced. Physical activity can help you gain weight by building muscles.

We have more information about keeping to a healthy weight.

Other health problems

After cancer treatment, some people are more at risk of developing other health problems. Being physically active can help you manage or reduce your risk of:

  • high blood pressure
  • stroke
  • high cholesterol
  • type 2 diabetes
  • kidney disease

Reducing the risk of cancer coming back

There is some evidence that being physically active at the recommended levels can reduce the risk of some cancers coming back. These include breast and bowel cancer.

Research into physical activity is ongoing. More evidence is needed before we will know how much and what specific exercise is needed to reduce the risk of cancers coming back.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our physical activity and cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Schmitz K, Courneya K, Matthews C, et al. American College of Sports Medicine roundtable on exercise guidelines for cancer survivors. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 2010. 42.

    Thomas R et al. Physical activity after cancer: a review of international literature. British Journal of Medical Practitioners. 2014.. 

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Anna Campbell.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.