Can I Exercise with Cancer? Yes, and Here’s Why it’s a Good Idea

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Can I Exercise with Cancer? Yes, and Here’s Why it’s a Good Idea

“You’re sick. You need to rest.”

You’ve probably heard these words at least once. Whether a parent was telling you that no, you couldn’t go out and play if you stayed home sick from school, or you stayed home from work when you didn’t feel well, you may associate illness with the need for inactivity.

Cancer seems like the ultimate illness. Who needs rest more than someone who is going through chemotherapy or radiation treatments or just had surgery?

Today, research is changing what we thought we knew about cancer and inactivity. We’ve learned that physical movement boosts your immune system, relieves anxiety, and builds strength and flexibility–whether you are well, having cancer treatment, or aiming to boost your health as a survivor.

Let’s Not Call It Exercise

You don’t have to belong to a gym or invest in equipment. You can:

  • Walk your dog around the neighborhood (as far or as little as you like).
  • Spend a few minutes to a few hours in the garden.
  • Go fishing or birdwatching with a friend.
  • Use nature trails and parks that are mobility friendly. Many state and federal parks and scenic areas have easy access, rest areas, and short trails in prime areas.
  • Take a yoga class specifically for people with cancer. Many hospitals and cancer centers offer these, or you can find one online.
  • Try tai chi to improve your balance and find a calm center.

Incorporating more movement into your day can be simple—walking next door to talk with a neighbor or playing with a grandchild count as movement and have healing benefits beyond the physical. Our writer, Jenny Leyh, also talks about the physical conditioning needed to return to work, or continue working, during treatment. Read her series on life with cancer, from diagnosis to last treatment, for breast cancer.

Free Guide to Movement and Cancer

We’ve created a new Pocket Guide to share the proven benefits of physical activity when you have cancer. You may want to share it with your oncologist and others on your health-care team. It includes an introduction to the health and wellness specialty of exercise oncology. Download the free guide.

Pocket Guides to Integrative Health and Cancer

Pocket Guide to Nutrition and Cancer

Supporting your body with food can help you stay active and boost your immune system for energy and better health, whatever your diagnosis.

Pocket Guide to Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy, or PN, is numbness, tingling, and pain in the hands, feet, fingers, and toes. Learn more about this condition, including possible ways to prevent it or reduce the symptoms.

Pocket Guide to Cancer Pain

Learn integrative health approaches to coping with and reducing pain when you have cancer, with and without prescription medications.


Take Your Health Into Your Own Hands Drawing on 40 years of research and patient care, Dr. Wayne Jonas explains how 80 percent of healing occurs organically and how to activate the healing process. Learn More