Using Exercise to Manage Cancer-Related Fatigue

Written by Ayesha Koome – Exercise Physiologist & Athletic Therapist, Cancer Recovery Exercise Program


Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer treatments and can persist for years after treatment has finished.  Everyone experiences fatigue differently, and it usually involves inconsistent energy, energy “crashes” or drops, and high levels of tiredness from normally easy tasks. Finding a way to manage your fatigue will help to improve your ability to function and to get back into your daily routine.

Research shows that regular exercise can reduce fatigue and increase energy. The evidence is so strong that exercise is now recommended as a first line treatment for the management of fatigue and has been shown to have greater effects then pharmaceutical interventions (pills)! Exercise stimulates the body to release feel good endorphins, which act as a mood and energy booster.  It also helps to improve sleep quality, overall fitness, muscle strength and physical function,  which can all be impacted by cancer treatments and can contribute to fatigue.

If you have moderate or high levels of fatigue and want to start exercising regularly, keep in mind that it is best to start small and work your way up to longer exercise durations and intensities.  We know that both aerobic exercise (e.g. walking) and strength exercise (e.g. weight training) can be effective at reducing your fatigue, so pick the ones you prefer. Make it a goal to start with a minimum of 10-minutes of daily exercise, even on days when you feel extremely tired. This could be a short walk around your neighborhood, some body-weight strength exercises or dancing to 2-3 songs at home.  The addition of daily exercise, even small amounts, is going to be what makes the biggest difference in the management of fatigue.

It’s important to remember that everyone is starting from a different place and responses to exercise can vary.  If you are unsure how to get started, our cancer recovery exercise program can help you to understand how to use exercise to improve your energy and get back to the activities that you want to be doing.