How to choose the right exercise program for you after cancer.

by | Apr 23, 2020 | Articles, Health, Mind & Body

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The exercise you do as a patient and as a survivor can look very different. And probably will. Choosing the right exercise program at the right time can make all the difference in sticking with and enjoying it. Here are a few guidelines for choosing the right exercise.

As a patient going through treatment, fatigue and lack of desire can keep you from getting physical. However, having a friend or accountability partner (like a personal trainer) can greatly increase the chances of you getting your workout in. In episode 3 of the Life Well-Lived podcast, I interviewed my trainer, Jason Butler about how to make sure you are starting a program that is right for you.

It’s all about you!

First, recognize this is solely about you. Your level of fitness, your preferences, and your stage of recovery. When choosing an exercise program after cancer, it is important to take into account what you’ve been through and plan a course for where you want to go.

In the beginning when you’re still in treatment, it may be easier to do exercises like walking or yoga. Maybe a couple days of light weight training sprinkled in between. The weight training will help you keep your strength up. And, you can increase weight as you feel comfortable.

Start where you are and make adjustments as needed.

Which brings us to point number two. Work up to doing exercise that is more challenging for you. That could mean starting with a Hatha yoga class and moving up to Vinyasa as you are able to do more. It could mean starting with walking and progressing to riding a bicycle. Know when and how to modify the routine. If you can’t do certain poses in yoga, don’t worry, adjust as you need. If you don’t know how to modify the routine, ask the instructor of the class or work with a qualified professional who can help you.

Have a goal to work toward.

Having a goal to work toward can also help you get physical. At first, your goal may be to walk around the block without having to stop fifty times. Maybe you work up to walking around the block twice or three times. You know your body best, doing what you feel you can without exhaustion is plenty. But, if you want to have a specific goal to work toward that will help you stay the course on days when you don’t feel like working out, the weather is bad, or when you get busy with other things (like work, family, or volunteering). Having a goal to work toward will also help you guage progress, which can help you get excited about what you’re doing when you see yourself improve.

Work up to more challenging exercise goals.

It’s important to remember that exercise can be a challenge without causing harm or being of detriment.

When I started exercising, I began with yoga and walking. I progressed to hiking easy paths, then hills, then mountains. When I felt comfortable with that, I started riding my bike. There was a natural progression. I never did anything that felt forced or uncomfortable.

Michael Hyatt talked about this point from a productivity point of view. But it is applicable here too. You want your goal to be challenging, but not so far out of your reach that it’s crazy! Just something you have to reach for. It just has to be challenging enough to keep you engaged. If it’s not a little bit of a challenge, odds are you won’t take it seriously and may not be fully committed.

It has to be fun!

The exercise program you choose after cancer has to be fun for you. This is maybe the most important point. If it’s all work and no joy, it probably won’t last. Choose something that you enjoy doing and puts a smile on your face even when you’re tired.


Medications affect different parts of you. Some may leave you with numbness in your hands or feet and affect your balance as a result. Other medications may affect your heart. Still others may leave you feeling tired as a result of decreased red blood cells. 

Before you start a new exercise routine, check with your doctor about what’s safe, and always listen to your body.

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