Being physically active during treatment

Some physical activity during cancer treatment will help you maintain your fitness, strength and bone health. Choose activities you enjoy and set some realistic goals for yourself.

The health benefits of physical activity during cancer treatment

Whatever cancer treatment you have, being physically active during and after treatment has benefits.

Being active may help you:

  • maintain your fitness, strength, and mental well-being
  • manage ongoing side effects such as tiredness (fatigue)
  • reduce your risk of late effects after treatment
  • reduce the risk of certain cancers coming back.

This includes cancer treatment that is completed within a few weeks or months. It also includes treatments taken for several years, such as hormonal therapy for breast or prostate cancer.

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

Booklets and resources

How much physical activity can you do during cancer treatment?

Being physically active during and after treatment is generally safe. But there may be some specific activities you need to avoid or be careful with. We have more information about exercising safely when you have cancer. If you are not sure about being active during treatment, talk to your healthcare team. Some hospitals and community services have cancer exercise specialists, clinical exercise physiologists or classes that you can be referred to. We have more information about different types of exercise and how to find activities near you.

What you can manage will depend on your level of fitness and the treatment you are having. There may be some weeks when you have to do less, such as immediately after chemotherapy. As you go through treatment you may have times you feel less motivated to be active. This is okay. Doing something like stretching or a short walk is better than doing nothing at all.

Remember to take things slowly. Try not to do too much, even on a good day. It is best to try to increase the amount of activity you do in the long term. Try not to worry about any short-term setbacks.

How much activity is right for you?

It is important not to suddenly start intense exercise that you are not used to. This can lead to injuries and complications. Doing too much too soon can put you off. It can also make it more difficult to fit exercise into your daily routine. Little and often helps to make activities more manageable, realistic and create consistency for better long-term success.

At the end of an activity, you should feel energised – not totally exhausted.

Which type of activity you do, and how much you do, will depend on the following:

  • How fit you were before you were diagnosed. If you were active before, you may have to build back up to the same level slowly. But you may need to build to a new level that is suitable for your situation. Some
  • people may be able to continue as they did before their diagnosis.
  • The type of cancer and treatments you had or are still having. This may affect what is safe for you to do and what you can manage.
  • Any symptoms or treatment side effects you have. This includes any emotional effects of cancer.
  • Any long-term conditions you have, such as heart problems.
  • Whether you have long term effects of the cancer or its treatment. This might include bone problems, lymphoedema, peripheral neuropathy, heart problems, bladder changes or a stoma.

We have more information about recommended activity levels and types of activity including:

  • aerobic activity – this is particularly good for your heart and cardiovascular system.
  • muscle strength exercises – these strengthen muscles, bones and joints
  • flexibility exercises – these can help prevent injuries and strains
  • balance exercises – these are good for building strength.

During your treatment, your energy levels will change from day to day. You should try to spend less time sitting or lying down. If you can, you should try to balance small amounts of light or moderate exercise with periods of rest.

Choose activities you enjoy and set some realistic goals for yourself. If you feel very tired the day after activity, you may be trying to do too much, too soon. Over time, you will be able to increase the amount you do.

Simple ways to be more active

Everyone’s experience of cancer is different, both during and after treatment. Listen to your body to see which activities feel right for you.

Some people find that using a step counter (pedometer) or fitness tracker helps to keep them motivated. Setting daily step goals or distances that gradually increase over the week or month can be a great way to stay motivated. Others prefer to be active and not have anything that tracks them. It is a personal choice.

There are lots of ways you can become more active, including:

  • doing more around the home, such as housework or gardening – you could do 10 minutes, then rest for 10 minutes, and repeat until you have completed 30 minutes of activity
  • walking or cycling to work, to the shops, to see friends, or taking children to school
  • joining a group or class – you might find ideas of types of exercise you want to try in our information about types of physical activity and activities in your area.

You could also ask your GP if they can refer you to a structured exercise programme for people with cancer or long-term conditions. These are usually based at a leisure centre with a gym or dance studio.

We have more information on exercise guidelines.

If you have advanced cancer

If you have advanced cancer and want to be more active, the advice is the same as for people who do not have advanced cancer. You should start slowly and gradually build up the amount you do.

If you have advanced cancer, most types of light physical activity are safe, such as going for a short walk.

We have more information about exercising safely when you have advanced cancer.

About our information

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

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our physical activity information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at


    Campbell K, Winters-Stone K, Wiskemann J, et al. Exercise guidelines for cancer survivors: consensus statement from international multidisciplinary roundtable. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 November; 51911): 2375-2390 [accessed February 2023].

  Physical activity for adults and older adults: 19 and over [accessed February 2023].

Professor Anna Campbell


Professor in Clinical Exercise Science

Edinburgh Napier University

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 November 2023
Next review: 01 November 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.