More than 150,000 people with cancer come to a Mayo Clinic site annually. Patients benefit from the knowledge and extensive experience of Mayo Clinic specialists and integrated approach to treating each individual. Reliable, up-to-date education is central to a patient’s cancer care plan. Mayo Clinic provides information and resources to support patients during diagnosis, treatment and life after treatment. Knowledge empowers people to be active partners in their health care.

Physical Activity and Cancer

Physical activity benefits us all for a variety of beneficial health reasons.  We typically think of cardiovascular health, strength and toning, and overall stamina.  Being more physically active also reduces cancer risk and contributes to preventing occurrence or recurrence of cancer.

The American College of Sports Medicine published a report in fall of 2019 stating that physical activity is recommended for all cancer survivors.  It was found to be especially motivating to join a group activity for cancer patients led by trained health professionals or a group like Livestrong to receive proper recommendations, education and emotional support.

What are the benefits of physical activity?

  • Research in several types of cancer, such as colon, breast and prostate have shown a decrease in cancer recurrence when survivors make 30 minutes physical activity a part of their day.
  • Fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer and its treatment, physical activity has been shown to decrease cancer-related fatigue.
  • It strengthens our cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
  • May increase our feelings of well-being, outlook and brain/cognitive function, possibly decreasing anxiety and depression.
  • Increases muscle tone, strength and decreases risk of falling.

How do I begin?

  • Discuss with your health care provider your plans to become more physically active. Your health care provider may recommend for you to see a physical therapist to address any special circumstances (such as surgery or radiation) that have made it difficult to move a body part, or issues related to lymphedema (swelling due to a blocked lymph node), or difficulties with pain.
  • Start slowly and be realistic  in your expectations of yourself. Take into account your activity level before cancer treatment  and what you are able to do now.
  • Make yourself a priority and schedule a time of day you feel your best to be active.

What are the key components of a physical activity program?

  • Stretching/Flexibility
    • Improves range of motion, reduces joint stiffness and may decrease the likelihood of spraining a muscle.
    • Do 5-15 minutes everyday.
  • Strengthening
    • Training that helps muscles become stronger by pushing or pulling against a force such as gravity or a weight.
    • Do 2-3 times a week.
  • Cardiovascular/Aerobic
    • Any activity that uses your large muscle groups and increases your heart rate. It can be walking, swimming, dancing, any activity you move your body and enjoy.
    • The goal is a total of 30 minutes most days of the week. This can be broken into 5-10 minutes of activity at a time if needed to get a total of 30 minutes in a day.
    • You may determine how fast you should walk by using the "talk test." If you are walking with a friend you should be able to say a sentence of 4-5 words. If you can sing you are walking too slow, if you can only answer yes or no you are going too fast.
  • Balance
    • This type of activity reduces your risk of falls and injury. It can also strengthen your muscles.

Things to remember

  • Consult your healthcare team prior to starting a new physical activity program
  • Make physical activity part of your daily routine
  • Start slowly and continue to build
  • Be flexible and consider new types of physical activity
  • Report to your healthcare team any new pain, weakness or shortness of breath

Additional Resources

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