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Exercise and cancer

How will exercise help me if I have cancer?

Exercise and being physically active helps people with cancer in many ways. It can make you feel better mentally and physically both during and after treatment.

Will exercise hurt me if I have cancer?

No. Exercise will not hurt you if you have cancer and it can help you feel better.

Exercise that raises your heart rate will:

  • give you more energy
  • help you sleep better
  • make your mood better
  • lower body fat
  • make muscles strong
  • lower cholesterol levels
  • lower the risk and effects of diabetes
  • lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression

Lifting weights will:

  • increase your muscle size
  • make you stronger before, during and after treatment
  • help lower some types of pain
  • lower the risk of broken bones
  • lower body fat
  • help maintain speed, power, balance and flexibility
  • make you safer at home when you do your day to day tasks

What are some ways I can increase my activity level during the day?

  • Start simple by “tweaking your week.” Make small changes to do more physical activity each day.
  • Take the stairs
  • Ride your bike
  • Get off the bus a stop earlier and walk
  • Walk while you have a meeting
  • Walk during a break
  • Park further away

Learn more about the little changes you can make:

What do I need to know before I get started?

Please speak to your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

Is there anything I need to do when I exercise?

Remember to start slow. Aim to exercise only one to two days a week until you get into a routine. The goal is for you to be able to exercise following the guidelines below.

Your energy levels will be different week to week. So if you do not meet your exercise goal one week, it is ok! You can always make up for it the next week.

When you exercise, make sure you warm up before you start. You can do this by going for a fast five minute walk that starts to raise your heart rate. Make sure you cool down after you exercise as well. You can do this by going for a slow five minute walk to bring your heart rate back down.

If you want to make sure you stick to your exercise routine, it is important to choose an activity that you enjoy and will continue to do!

View our exercise guidelines »

Exercise that raises your heart rateWeight Lifting
How often?

Medium level: 3-5 days a week

Hard level: 3 days a week

2-3 days a week

(rest for 48 hours in between weight lifting sessions)
How hard to push yourself (on a scale from 0-10)

Medium level: 5-6 out of 10

Hard level: 7-8 out of 10
You can comfortably do 8-12 repetitions
How long?

Medium level: 30 minutes per session

Hard level: 20 minutes per session
Time it takes to do 8-12 repetitions of exercises that work your arms, legs and trunk.
Examples Brisk walking, running, biking, swimming, dancing, sports you enjoy such as golf, squash and tennis Pilates, lifting free weights or dumbbells, using resistance bands, weight machines, community cancer exercise classes

Community exercise programs for the cancer population

There are a number of free group exercise programs in the community for people living with cancer in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. Be sure to ask your doctor, physiotherapist or occupational therapist for a list of these programs.

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Location and contact

Patient and Family Support

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
2075 Bayview Avenue,
T-wing, ground floor, room 230
Toronto, ON M4N 3M5

Phone: 416-480-4623

Hours: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.