Long-Term Follow-Up

Exercise After Cancer Treatment/HSCT

Q: How important is exercise for bone marrow/stem cell transplant survivors?   

Exercise is very important for maintaining health after a transplant.  Studies have shown that a physically active lifestyle, along with an appropriate weight and healthful diet, can help prevent cancer recurrence, new cancers, and other chronic diseases. Exercise improves cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, body composition, fatigue, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, happiness, and quality of life in cancer and transplant survivors. A serious disease diagnosis, treatment (including transplant), and recovery decrease physical activity levels. This decrease in activity increases the survivor’s overall risk for a new cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. For additional information, see:

Q: I feel too tired and weak to exercise. Won’t exercise make me feel worse rather than better?   

We all know that exercise or other physical activity can make us feel tired. However, you may also feel tired from inactivity. Studies of cancer patients, the elderly and other debilitated adults show that exercise is one of the best ways to fight fatigue. Even low-intensity exercise can have a dramatic effect in reducing fatigue. By gradually increasing physical activity, a person can gain stamina, or the ability to engage in more physical activity or exercise. As you exercise, you have more energy, gain strength and become able to do more. For additional information, see:

Q: How do I know what kind of exercise is best for me?   

First, consult with your doctor to determine any limitations on your activity. Depending on your level of fitness or disability, your doctor may OK a general exercise program, or may refer you to a physical therapist for a specific program suited to your needs. Physical therapists can make recommendations on the type, frequency, duration, and intensity of exercise. Your exercise program can be individualized to your age, diagnosis, treatment, previous activity level, and other medical conditions. Don’t be discouraged if you are starting out slowly.  Even small additions of activity can help decrease fatigue and build stamina to help you feel better. Check in regularly with your health care team if you have any problems or pain associated with your new activity.  Transplant survivors, especially those who have had steroid therapy for a long time, are at an increased risk of certain joint problems. For additional information, see:

Q: Are there any special programs to help cancer survivors maintain physical fitness?   

Special fitness programs have been active for a number of years to help breast cancer survivors with specific problems related to mastectomy.  Additional programs have been developed as the value of exercise for survivors of other forms of cancer has been recognized. Depending on where you live, you may have access to fitness programs designed to meet the special needs of cancer survivors. The Hutchinson Center and LiveStrong Foundation have partnered with the YMCA in Seattle to provide a free 10-week exercise program designed especially for cancer survivors.  Some other YMCA locations and cancer centers around the country have similar programs. The American College of Sports Medicine certifies fitness instructors to work specifically with cancer patients and survivors. For more information, see: