Many people with a cancer diagnosis are understandably cautious about being more physically active. Can exercise make my cancer spread? Will it make my treatment side-effects worse? How will exercise work with my medications? 

But don't worry, we're here to take you through all the info you need. First up...

Should I exercise?

In short, yes. Being physically active can benefit you at all stages of your cancer journey, and can positively influence your quality of life by improving your physical, psychological and social wellbeing.

In the past, those experiencing cancer were advised to rest and avoid physical activity, but we now know this is a super outdated way of thinking and numerous studies show it's not only safe, but also hugely important in managing some cancer symptoms experienced during and after treatment like:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of muscle bulk
  • Nausea
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Loss of normality and routine

The evidence says that exercise should be an essential part of any cancer treatment and management plan - despite this, fewer than 1 in 5 people who experience cancer treatment are meeting recommended physical activity guidelines.

It may have been questioned in the past, but it's now firmly agreed that exercise is not only safe, but beneficial for those undergoing treatment. Still need more convincing? We asked exercise physiologist Tom Cowan to explain it all in his blog.

Getting into / back into exercise
"I was always fit and sporty before my cancer diagnosis - but since I finished chemo in October 2019 I hadn't really got back into it as I was scared about what my body could do and I was struggling with worrying and some pain/fatigue." Trekstock community member

This is such a common concern, which is why we put on our Lifting the Lid on Cancer and Exercise to answer all of your big Q's.

If you're keen to get back to exercising, but don't know where to start, we've got tonnes of resources to help you out:

If you're new to exercise, you should start with low-intensity activities, such as light walking and gentle stretching, and slowly advance your levels. Take a look at a few exercises and stretches you can try here.

Benefits of exercising after treatment

Once you've finished treatment, increasing your levels of physical activity is essential to aiding the process of recovery. Your body is likely to be deconditioned, but when you increase your physical activity, you can improve your:

  • Fitness
  • Strength
  • And lower the risk of future treatment-related late effects.

Exercising at moderate and vigorous levels results in the best outcomes. The numerous benefits of being physically active and meeting the UK physical activity guidelines include improvements in:

  • Physical functioning
  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Muscle strength
  • Bone health
  • Balance
  • Quality of life

“I'm still trying to be as active as possible. I used to play lacrosse and do triathlons but now I've turned into a yoga bunny and a fair weather cyclist! I haven't worn my lycras in a while but I still have them in hope... Exercising really helps me to have a routine each day.” Alisha, Trekstock Beneficiary

Being active safely

While there may be potential risks that come with exercising, the benefits of being active far outweigh this - inactivity can cause far more risk for your current and future health.

Individuals may need to take certain considerations before exercising, so you might want to give exercise a miss if:

  • You develop new feelings of pain, or your pain feels worse or more than normal
  • You feel unusual sudden muscle weakness
  • You feel dizzy, have chest pain, breathing problems or any other sudden symptoms – if you feel these while exercising stop immediately and contact your doctor.

Before beginning any kind of exercise programme it is important that you seek the advice and support of your medical team, your clinical nurse specialist or a physiotherapist. There are also Level 4 Cancer Rehabilitation personal trainers who are qualified to assess and design an exercise plan tailored to your individual needs.

Each exercise programme should be tailored to your individual needs to account for personal fitness levels, any limitations you may have and your goals. Details for your programme may depend on your age, type of cancer and your treatments. Just remember:

It's important to remember that any kind of activity is better than none, you should aim to move as much as possible as often as possible.