3 Tips to Stay Active & Live Healthy With Cancer

December 21, 2023
Female friends exercise with dumbbells on mats in a gym class

Stock photo posed by models, sourced by Getty Images

Exercise doesn’t need to be difficult or strenuous to be effective. Here’s how you can get moving at a pace that’s right for you, wherever you are in your cancer experience.

I learned that the only way to improve my cancer fatigue is by getting more activity in my day. … I learned what machines to use to build up my glutes [to] steady my knees. I can now walk 20 minutes on the treadmill and my balance has improved dramatically. I also learned some new yoga and meditation, which provide stretching and give me new tools to improve my emotional health when things get tough on my cancer journey.

Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer

Has your cancer diagnosis made you feel like you’ve lost control over your body? Have you experienced fatigue or feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and helplessness? 

These are all common feelings when living with cancer. Still, they can be difficult to understand and navigate. When these feelings interfere with your ability to stay physically healthy and active, it can affect your mental health. Maintaining an active lifestyle can help you regain control over your body and support your mental well-being. Staying active can also help boost your energy.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people with cancer build up to doing moderate-intensity aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) each week.1 The ACSM suggests starting with a few minutes of activity, gradually building up to 30-60 minutes over the day. The group also recommends doing strength training (starting with light effort) a few times a week to help build muscle.1

Ready to get moving and breathing? Try these 3 tips to create an exercise plan that's comfortable for you:


1. Learn the benefits of exercise.

Daily exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of depression, release muscle tension, and reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. When you exercise, chemicals called endorphins are produced in the brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of the body. Endorphins can decrease your awareness of pain and trigger positive feelings in the body.

Exercise can also:

  • Keep or improve your physical abilities
  • Improve balance and lower risk of falls or broken bones
  • Improve blood flow and lower risk of blood clots
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Improve sexual functioning
  • Lower risk of anxiety and depression
  • Reduce impact from side effects such as nausea and fatigue
  • Lower risk of heart disease and osteoporosis
  • Improve sleep
  • Help prevent or improve cognitive symptoms
  • Help maintain a healthy weight


Yoga Can Boost Your Mood

Even gentle, low-impact exercise like yoga can reduce stress hormones and increase endorphins in the body. Another plus? You don’t need to go to a yoga studio to get the benefits. Try our slow-flow yoga class at your own pace, from the comfort of your home.

Take Our Free Slow-Flow Yoga Class Now

Watch this short video as a breast cancer survivor shares how yoga and meditation helped her during treatment.
2. Consult with your healthcare team.

Before deciding on what exercises you should do, talk to your healthcare team to see what activities will work well with your current diagnosis and treatment. You’ll also want to ask about any precautions you should take. Factors like your age, type and stage of cancer, and treatment side effects are all important considerations.2

Here are some questions to ask your healthcare team:

  • Is my body and heart healthy enough for me to exercise?
  • What type of exercise is safe and beneficial for me?
  • What precautions should I take when it comes to exercising?
  • How often should I exercise?
  • When should I not exercise?


Aerobic Exercise Vs. Strength Training: What’s the Difference? 

Both types of exercise offer many potential health benefits. Aerobic activity (also sometimes called cardio) can be great for strengthening the heart and lungs.3 Think: running, cycling, swimming, walking, or playing tennis. Strength training is an anaerobic form of exercise. It can help maintain and enhance muscle mass, among other things.4


3. Create an exercise plan.

After consulting with your healthcare team, explore ways that will work for you to stay active. Exercise does not have to be strenuous to be effective. Simply moving or stretching your body can be beneficial to your physical and mental well-being. Our Mind Body Studio offers free guided yoga, meditation, and gentle stretching videos specifically designed with the needs of people impacted by cancer in mind.


Visit Our Mind Body Studio Now


Walking is another great way to stay active. Dr. Audrey Boxwell is a psychologist who has significant experience leading cancer patients on meditative walks. In our blog "Walking Heals Body and Mind," by Nancy Sharp, Dr. Boxwell explains that walking increases circulation, which benefits all the body's organs and also has a calming effect on the brain.

"I see a lot of patients and caregivers paralyzed by fear, especially after a tough diagnosis," notes Dr. Boxwell. "It’s easy to become immobilized in these situations, and this is why movement created by walking is so essential."

Other ways to stay active include:

  • Balance exercises
  • Gardening
  • Tai Chi
  • Dancing
  • Light jogging
  • Tennis
  • Swimming
  • Golfing


Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is a vital part of your cancer journey. Most importantly, listen to your body and do not push it to limits that you or your healthcare team are not comfortable with you doing. Set realistic and achievable goals for yourself. This will help you maintain and stick with your exercise plan.

Exercising can be intimidating in the beginning. But the physical, emotional, and mental health benefits of exercise can make it an effective coping strategy throughout your cancer experience.


Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in December 2021 and has been updated.


1. Exercise Is Medicine® Initiative. 2021. Being Active When You Have Cancer. American College of Sports Medicine.

2. National Cancer Institute. Nov. 12, 2019. Prescribing Exercise as Cancer Treatment: A Conversation With Dr. Kathryn Schmitz. NIH National Cancer Institute website.

3. Mayo Clinic. Nov. 18, 2023. Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical. Mayo Clinic website.

4. Mayo Clinic. April 29, 2023. Strength training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier. Mayo Clinic website.