11 Ways Cancer Survivors Can Motivate to Exercise

It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.
— Muhammad Ali


Exercise is the most important thing cancer survivors can do to improve fatigue, pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, obesity…the benefits are endless. If you’d like to read further details about these benefits, check here.

But how do you reap the benefits when you feel so tired you can hardly move your pinky finger, let alone take a brisk 30 minute walk?

Survivors - I know it’s not easy. That’s why I came up with eleven ideas to help motivate cancer survivors everywhere to get up and moving, no matter what.

11 Ways Cancer Survivors Can Motivate to Exercise

  1. Turn off the electronic time suckage machines.

    Turn off the TV. Put down the phone. Get away from the computer screen. And get outside.

    In surveying cancer survivors over the last few weeks, I’ve noted that some survivors site “not enough time” as a barrier to wellness after cancer. Just think how much time you’d find if you didn’t spend any time in front of the army of screens we invite into our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to screen time, but I’m going to listen to my own advice and I hope you do to.

    Exchange 30 minutes of screen time each day for exercise time. You deserve it.

  2. Exercise in the morning.

    When you wait until late in the day to exercise, somehow there’s always something urgent that gets in the way, right?That’s why I think it’s best to exercise first thing in the morning.

    There’s nothing in the way of a great workout if you leave enough time in your morning routine, and you can take advantage of the extra energy boost your morning green tea or coffee might give you.

  3. Get a cute outfit.

    This item might appeal most to the ladies out there, but I think the idea can benefit male survivors too. It’s really about getting the right equipment for the task, right?

    A nice, high quality, flattering exercise outfit can be incredibly motivating. When you feel comfortable and supported in your apparel, it makes exercise much more pleasant. I speak from experience; this girl knows what it feels like to chafe.

    My favorite active wear brand is Outdoor Voices. They design exercise apparel for men and women. The women’s wear is great quality and looks fantastic. They also cater to a variety of sizes, not just atomic, micro, and extra small like many of the exercise apparel manufacturers seem to do.

    Outdoor Voices uses a diverse group of models who reflect this philosophy as well, all different body types and builds are represented. Outdoor Voices’ leggings have secure compression and are high wasted which takes care of any muffin top situation. The Athena Crop sports bra is actually my everyday bra - so comfortable with the high neck and racer back. The price point isn’t cheap, but the stuff lasts. Also, shipping and returns are free.

    It’s a true love affair. Check them out here. And by the way, I get absolutely no money for recommending anything they sell. I just love them.

  4. Stay in place.

    Again, in my recent cancer survivor wellness survey, cancer survivors say they’re just “too exhausted” to exercise. You know what I say to that? Just lay down!

    There are many types of exercises you can do right where you are (Yoga or Tai Chi anyone?). There are a million chair exercise routines, Tai Chi demonstrations, and yoga videos available for free on You Tube. You don’t even have to move to get moving these days. Try it.

  5. Start small. Start slow.

    Have you ever decided to get back in shape and immediately gone on a ten mile run? Couldn’t walk the next day, right? Don’t do that.

    Just start small, just start slow. If you’ve got a long road to recovery physically after your cancer treatment, baby steps are required. Just take a short walk each day, a little longer each time. It can take months to get back up to speed, so expect a long journey and enjoy the slow pace. Consistency is key, not speed or intensity.

  6. Enlist a partner.

    For many people, exercise as a social outlet helps with accountability. If you’re an extrovert that gains energy in the company of others and likes to chat when you exercise, this tip is for you.

    Make an “active date” with a friend. Meet at the same time every day for your walk. Catching up on the latest news with friends can be what gets you out of the house and moving on a regular basis.

    You know that friend that’s been asking how she can help you through cancer? Ask her to be your exercise buddy - you know she’d jump at the chance.

  7. Make an appointment.

    Hiring a trainer or reserving your spot in a Pilates or soul cycle class is a way to commit to exercise in your day. You don’t have to think about it, you just show up and your exercise time begins. There’s no putting it off or procrastinating because you’ve created a designated time and place that’s non-negotiable.

    This might work for people that are extremely busy and put exercise off because there’s always something more important coming up. Look, we’re all busy. You just have to prioritize, pencil it in, and stick with it.

  8. Meditate first.

    If you’re really struggling with fatigue, it may be beneficial to pair meditation with exercise. You can read all about meditation here and here; the short story is that a mindfulness practice like meditation can improve fatigue significantly, perhaps even enough to get you out the door with greater ease.

    It can be as simple as a five minute, deep breathing exercise to quiet your mind and find the necessary bit of energy to get you moving. Marrying mindfulness with movement is really ideal because the result will be greater than the sum of its parts.

  9. Get somewhere.

    I walk to work. It’s awesome, because even on the most hectic day, I walk twenty minutes. Exercise is inevitable because I’ve got to get to work somehow, right?

    Is there somewhere you go on a regular basis that’s actually within walking distance? Maybe you can hold off buying that item at the big box store and take a walk to your neighborhood store to buy it later instead. Ride your bike to the post office to get stamps instead of mailing that letter at work.

    You can design your errands or even your whole life around exercise. It’s a different way to think, almost like going back in time. It might seem less convenient at first, but as you get in the habit of buying and doing things locally, you’ll find it increases your physical activity and benefits your neighbors and community as well. Win win win!

  10. Trick Yourself.

    What do you enjoy doing so much you forget it’s exercise? Tap dancing? Gardening? Coaching youth soccer? Hiking or camping? Golfing? Fill your days and weekends with your favorite activities. Include your loved ones in your active pursuits. Before you know it, you might just be filled with energy and be in great shape without feeling like you’ve lifed a finger!

  11. Get addicted to a podcast.

    Once or twice a week I take 90 minute walks. Sometimes my husband and son get worried because I’ve been gone so long. I love these walks because it’s my dedicated podcast time!

    There are so many great audio stories and magazines to listen to these days - if you don’t like exercising, at least use it as an excuse to consume some fascinating entertainment. Audible by Amazon has a huge selection of free audio options if you’re a Prime member. And I just googled “best podcasts 2018” and a million lists of fascinating podcasts came up. I can’t wait to dig into some of these new options!

    Podcasts make exercise fun and entertaining. Soon you’ll be craving long walks alone with your favorite podcast, too.


Well, there you have it. I hope you can find a motivator among the list above that will really get you moving. I’ve seen it time and time again in my practice - active cancer survivors do better in every way. It’s not easy, but it’s so worth it.

If you’d like to check out more of what we’ve got up our sleeve, check out Brio’s FREE Morning Checklist - a 7 Point Solution for Cancer Survivor Fatigue. I think you’ll find it helpful!

Get moving, Survivor - and take care!