How to Improve your Physical Health

Cancer treatment can be exhausting, physically and mentally. Too much time spent resting or sitting can cause loss of body function, muscle weakness, and reduced range of motion, making it hard to regain your strength. 

Strength and muscle mass play an important part in your balance and posture. By doing daily physical activities you can improve your health and recovery time.

Physical recovery benefits: 

  • Help your body and brain work better
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Help lessen depression and anxiety
  • Might help you sleep better
  • Improve your physical ability to get things done
  • Improve your muscle strength, bone health and range of motion
  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Increase your appetite
  • Help you get to and maintain a healthy weight
  • May help with lymphoedema 
  • Improve your quality of life
  • Reduce treatment side effects

You might find it hard to get back into exercise, due to fatigue and motivation. But starting a workout feeling tired can actually boost your energy and make you feel better within yourself.

Start off small and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts. Over time you may overcome some of your feelings of resistance, which will help you build an exercise habit. Take your time and be patient with yourself!

Start Slowly:

  • Even if you can only be active for a few minutes a day it will help you. Increase slowly how often and how long you exercise. 
  • Don’t push yourself. Listen to your body and rest when you need to. If you feel tired you can try doing 10 minutes of light exercises each day and build up.
  • Do not exercise if you feel dizzy or are unsteady on your feet.
  • Try short periods of exercise with frequent rest breaks. For example, walk briskly for a few minutes, slow down, and walk briskly again, until you have done 30 minutes of brisk activity. You can also divide your activity into three 10-minute sessions. You’ll still get the benefit of the exercise.
  • Do not exercise above a moderate level of exertion without talking with your doctor. 

Starting an exercise program can be a big task, even for a healthy person. It may be even harder if you have a chronic illness, especially if you weren’t used to exercising before diagnosis.

Starting with these simple exercises can help make it feel less daunting:  

 Flexibility Exercises 

Warm up before doing any of these stretches. Good examples of warm up activities are slowly running in place or walking briskly for a few minutes.

  • Yoga
  • Forward Lunges
  • Seat Straddle Lotus
  • Side Lunges ect.

Aerobic Exercises

Helps reduce chronic pain and improves the immune system and brain power. 
  • Swimming
  • Cycling

Resistance training (Lifting weights or isometric exercise)

This type of exercise helps rebuild your muscles and improve bone strength.

Many people lose muscle, but gain fat, through cancer treatment. For those with a high fat-to-lean mass ratio, resistance training can be especially helpful.

End each exercise session with stretching or flexibility exercises. Hold a stretch for about 15 to 30 seconds and relax. Examples of stretching are reaching overhead, deep breathing, and bending over to touch your toes so that you relax all the muscle groups and reduce any risk of damaging yourself. 

When to avoid certain types of exercise

People with certain types of cancer or having particular treatments might need to avoid some types of exercise till their bodies are fully recovered. 

Cancer affecting your bones

If you have cancer affecting your bones, you might be more at risk of a break or fracture. You must avoid putting too much strain on the affected bones. You could try swimming or exercising in water. The water supports your body weight, so the skeleton isn't stressed. Exercise such as yoga generally appears safe for everyone.

Low immunity

People with low immunity due to treatment should try to avoid exercising in public gyms. Ask your medical team when it is safe to start exercising in the gym with other people. 

Peripheral neuropathy

Some people have a loss of sensation, or feelings of pins and needles, in their hands and feet. This can be due to cancer treatments. It is called peripheral neuropathy. If you have this, it might be better to use a stationary bike than to do other types of weight bearing exercise.

After certain types of surgery

After certain types of surgery, you might have to wait before you can exercise like you used to. Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse for advice on what types of exercise you can do.


For more tips during recovery read - 'Why Rest is Important'