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Physical Activity After Cancer

Physical activity is important for childhood cancer survivors. 

Survivors have a higher risk for health problems than other people their age. 

This is because of the cancer itself or late effects of therapy. Late effects are health problems from cancer treatment that can happen months or years later.

Late effects depend on the type of therapy. They may include obesity or conditions of the heart, lungs, bones, and muscles. Physical activity can help with these problems. There are many ways you can add it to your daily life.

What are the benefits of physical activity?

  • Improves strength, flexibility, and balance

  • Reduces risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and certain cancers

  • Reduces risk for obesity 

  • Promotes bone health 

  • Improves mental health 

  • Improves brain health 

  • Increases confidence 

  • Provides opportunity to socialize 

Related Blog Post

Running Toward Better Heart Health

If you’re a childhood cancer survivor, it’s never too late to change your lifestyle. It just takes time and a lot of willpower.

Read the blog post

James Eversull running in St. Jude marathon with St. Jude banner in background

How much physical activity do I need per day?

Statue of children running and playing

For cancer survivors, physical activity can help with some health problems and late effects of therapy.

Children and teens

Children and teens need at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Most should be at least moderate intensity. 

Three days each week, physical activity should be high intensity. 


Try to get 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes per week of high-intensity activity. 

You can do short bouts of 10 minutes or more. It will add up. The more active you are, the greater the health benefits. 

At least 2 days per week, do activities to strengthen muscles. They should work all the major muscle groups. This can include resistance training using weights or body weight exercises. Balance and stability exercises are important to help prevent falling. 

Remember that some activity is better than nothing. Find things you enjoy. You are more likely to stay active if you like what you are doing.  

All adults should avoid sitting for too long. If you have a job that requires you to sit at desk, take activity breaks. 

Moderate vs. high intensity physical activity

Infographic showing examples of moderate and high intensity physical activity

What if I have a chronic health condition or disability?

You can adjust your physical activity to your level of fitness and abilities. A licensed/certified rehabilitation or fitness professional can help you design an activity plan.

Gardening is one activity that pediatric cancer survivors might choose to make physical activity more enjoyable

Since you are more likely to stay physically active if you enjoy it, try to find hobbies or other activities that are fun.

Being active: Tips for survivors

Talk to your doctor. Talk to your primary care physician before starting an exercise program. Ask what types of exercises are best for you. Find out if you should see an exercise specialist.

Start slow. Starting slow reduces your risk for injury and keeps you from becoming frustrated. Stick to small goals at first. Increase physical activity as you become more fit. 

Find activities you enjoy. You are more likely to do physical activity if it is fun. Dance, work in the garden, walk the dog, or play a sport. Get a workout buddy, join a workout class, watch a TV show while walking on the treadmill, or listen to music. Discover what works best for you.

Do a variety of physical activities. Doing different types of activity reduces boredom and burnout. It targets different areas of fitness and reduces risk of overuse injuries. 

Set goals and track your progress. Make a physical activity plan. Set challenging, but realistic goals. Track your progress. Change your goals as needed. Activity journals, mobile apps, and wearable trackers are all good ways to track physical activity.

Get help from a licensed rehabilitation provider or a certified fitness professional. A physical therapist or trained exercise specialist can support you. Look for professionals with training and certifications in working with people with medical conditions and physical challenges. 

For more information, see Physical Activity Basics from the Centers for Disease Control.

For more information on physical activity recommendations, see Physical Activity Basics for children, adults, older adults, and pregnant or postpartum women.

Reviewed: May 2021