What exercises can I do at home during or after cancer treatment?

Exercising and keeping active during or after cancer treatment can help with fatigue, improve fitness, reduce muscle loss, and help to improve your mental health.

Workouts to do at home

You don’t have to go to the gym to exercise. There are lots of exercises you can do at home which don’t require much equipment.

Remember to start slowly and progress at a pace that is right for you. Try to combine these exercises with some regular aerobic activity like a brisk walk, cycling or swimming.

You could also try:

  • taking a daily 30-minute walk after dinner.
  • using the stairs more instead of the lift or escalator.
  • walking or cycling more instead of using the car or public transport.

If you’re disabled or have any concerns about doing more physical activity, talk to your doctor or oncology exercise specialist to help you decide which exercises are best for you.

> Our recent review found that, for women with breast cancer, doing more physical activity lowered the risk of death and the risk of breast cancer recurring. Read more

Tip and advice for these exercises

  • Try the below exercises 2–3 times a week. It’s advised to not do more than this when starting, as this will help to avoid fatiguing yourself too much or potentially straining a muscle.
    Always take a day of rest between exercise days. For example, do the exercises on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday (if you are not feeling too fatigued, otherwise, do the exercises on Monday and Friday).
  • Start slowly and begin with 1–2 sets (progress to 2–3 sets after a few weeks) of 5–10 repetitions (reps) (start at 5 and gradually increase each week) of each of the below exercises.
    A set is how many times you repeat a particular number of repetitions. A repetition is the number of times you perform the movement.
  • If the last 2 reps are tough but you can still do them, you are getting stronger. If the last 2 reps feel too hard or you have pain, do fewer reps for a few sessions.
    If the last 2 reps feel very easy you can increase the number of reps per set. For example, increase to 2 sets of 8 reps and then increase to 2 sets of 10 reps.
  • Listen to your body. Take it easy and sit down if you experience any ill effects such as an irregular heartbeat (heart palpitations), excessive shortness of breath, dizziness, or nausea.
    If you experience any of these or other ill effects, then please speak to your doctor.
  • If you aren’t sure if you’re doing the below exercises correctly, speak to a qualified exercise professional – they may be able to watch you doing the exercise, or recommend an online video or website so you can see how to do the exercise properly.

Note: the following exercises are not recommended for people with an ostomy. An ostomy is a surgically created opening in the body that allows stool or urine to pass either from the intestine or from the urinary tract.

Exercise 1: Squat

How to do it: stand up straight with your feet directly below your hips and with your knees and toes facing forward. Bend your knees and extend your buttocks backward. Keep your back straight. Push your weight towards your heels. Make sure your knees do not go past your toes. Return to the start position.

Exercise 2: Lunge

How to do it: step forward with one foot and lower the knee of your back leg towards the floor. Don’t bend the knee of your front leg past your toe. Keep your upper body straight. Step back again. Step forward with your other leg. Return to the start position.

Exercise 3: Chest press

How to do it: you can do this exercise against a wall or on the floor.

Against the wall: Stand in front of the wall and hold both hands flat against the wall at shoulder level. Allow your body to move towards the wall by bending your elbows. Push your body away from the wall back to the start position.

On the floor: Start in the push-up position on the floor. You can do this by resting on your feet or you can make the exercise easier by resting on your knees. Place your hands flat on the floor at shoulder level. Allow your body to move slowly towards the floor by bending your elbows. Return to the start position. Make sure you don’t drop your head down and keep your back straight.

Exercise 4: Leg press

How to do it: lay down with your back flat on the floor. Bend your knees and place your feet close to your body flat on the floor. Press your buttocks upwards (off the floor) and hold this position for 2 seconds. Do not lift your head from the floor.

Variation: Hold your hands on your stomach. In this way, your elbows are not on the ground to provide support when holding the position.

Exercise 5: Arm curl

How to do it: place your feet on a resistance band (available online or in sports shops; ask an exercise professional or physiotherapist for advice). Grab the end of the band with your palm facing up and your arm straight. Bending at your elbow, pull on the resistance band so that your hand comes up towards your shoulder. Slowly return to the start position, controlling the tension in the resistance band.

Variation: instead of an elastic band you can also use hand weights or bottles filled with water. Always start with a light weight and progress the exercise by increasing the weight when you notice it is getting easier. By starting with a light weight, you will avoid over-exerting yourself.

Seek help from a relevant healthcare professional

Talk to a cancer exercise specialist or physiotherapist (your doctor may be able to refer you to one), as they can provide you with a personalised exercise programme tailored to your capabilities and personal situation – this will ensure that your exercise plan is safe and effective during and/or after your cancer treatment.

For more information about the benefits of physical activity and other exercises:

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