Keeping active when you have cancer

A guide for people with cancer

Keeping active before, during and after cancer treatment is important for your health and wellbeing.

Research shows keeping active can help you cope better with cancer treatment. It may also reduce the risk of some cancers coming back. Being active has been shown to be safe for people with cancer. Any exercise is a positive way to look after yourself.


Physical activity can benefit you before, during, and after cancer
treatment by:

• making your muscles and bones stronger
• increasing your energy levels
• improving your mood
• helping manage some of the side effects of treatment
• speeding up recovery
• improving your heart health
• reducing your risk of new cancers and other health problems.


How active should you be?

Any exercise is a positive way to look after yourself. Talk to your treatment team before starting any new exercise routines. Ask them about exercises that might be helpful for you.

Some treatments can affect the type of activity that is safe for you. There are some situations where public pools or gyms might not be best for someone undergoing cancer treatment. But for most people, these will be safe. The benefits of exercise are important, any possible risks should be discussed with your treatment team.

If you were fit and active before cancer, you may have to lower the intensity of your workouts for a while. You might feel nervous about starting a new exercise routine, especially if you feel tired or are worried that you might injure yourself.

Research shows that even a little activity is better than no activity at all.

Start slowly and build up the amount of activity you do.

Your doctor may suggest an exercise specialist or give you a Green Prescription to support and plan your exercise. Your options will depend on your physical condition, the stage and type of cancer you have, the treatment you are receiving, and any side effects you might be experiencing.


Exercise that may work out for you

If you are low in energy you could spread your activity across the day. Take a few shorter walks rather than one long walk.

Find an activity that you enjoy and match your current fitness level. Low-impact, weight-bearing activities such as walking, dancing, climbing stairs, swimming, cycling can be helpful.

People who are less mobile can benefit from activities such as:

• bed and chair exercises
• balance training
• walking with a mobility aid for support.


yoga 500


Yoga and tai chi combines gentle movement with meditation and breathing exercises. Physiotherapists or occupational therapists at your treatment centre maybe able to help you with your exercise programme.

Things to be aware of when exercising You should stop exercising immediately if you get any of the following:
• chest pain
• dizziness
• a racing heart
• breathing problems
• feeling sick
• unusual back or bone pain
• unusual muscle pain
• a headache that does not go away.
Speak to your doctor if you notice any of these or any other symptoms.
After treatment build up your level of activity slowly and balance this with periods of rest. Discuss what exercise might be best for you with your GP.
"I often broke my walks up into achievable times or distances.
For example, after surgery I did 3 lots of 10 minute walks a day.
I’d note how far I got in that 10 minutes then try and improve
on that the next time, even if it was just a few steps.”
  • Some people find the support from a gym helpful or a local walking group may help you take part in regular exercise. Your local Cancer Society may have an activity class that you could join such as: walking groups, yoga classes, gym programmes and healthy steps classes.
  • You could look for an approved strength and balance class in your area on the Live Stronger for Longer website This site has practical information and advice on how to stay active for people who are less active and over 65.
  • Others have found a referral from their GP to a Green Prescription provider useful. Find out more at this link:
  • You may find joining a PINC & STEEL programme helpful. PINC & STEEL programmes are run throughout the country and offer a range of activities designed to help people through every stage of their treatment and recovery.

  • Healthy-Steps programmes are designed for people affected by lymphoedema or to provide general exercise programmes after treatment. They are provided in some Cancer Society centres. See more here:

Cyclists standing next to their bikes


More information

For more information phone the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237) or visit these websites:

Cancer Council Australia

Cancer Council Victoria

MacMillan UK

Visit the Health Navigator NZ app library

VicHealth Healthy Living apps guide

OL@-OR@ health app for Māori and Pasifika
To download the app
• If you have an Android phone go to:
• If you have an iPhone go to:

Visit to find a sport or leisure activity in your local area that suits you–from biking to waka ama.