• Physical activity should be an essential part of any cancer treatment plan.
  • Staying active can help in managing treatment-related symptoms experienced during and after treatment.
  • Any kind of activity is better than none - you should aim to move as much as possible as often as possible.
  • During treatment you should aim to move and be as physically active as you can.
  • Once treatment is complete, you should aim to meet the UK Guidelines for Physical Activity.

Being active with cancer

Should I exercise?

Being physically active can be beneficial at all stages of your cancer journey. Exercise can positively influence your quality of life by improving your physical, psychological and social wellbeing. There is growing evidence 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.

In the past, those experiencing cancer were advised to rest and avoid physical activity. Numerous studies have now shown this guidance is outdated and we now know that exercise is not only safe but also hugely important in managing some cancer symptoms experienced during and after treatment particularly fatigue, loss of muscle bulk and nausea.

Being physically active and scheduling regular exercise can help bring a sense of normality and control back to your daily routine. And people who are more physically active generally have better sleep quality and experience less fatigue.


Benefits of exercising during treatment

While it was questioned in the past, it is now widely agreed that exercise is safe, feasible and beneficial for those undergoing treatment. Regardless of which treatment you are undergoing, your body has a lot to cope with. By being physically active, you may be able to reduce the chances or severity of some of the adverse side effects you may experience during treatment.

Keeping physically active during your treatment may have a positive effect on aspects of your physical and psychological wellbeing including: 

  • Physical functioning
  • Fatigue levels
  • Muscle strength
  • Bone health
  • Anxiety
  • Self-esteem

You should aim to maintain as much physical activity as possible, reducing the amount of time you spend sitting or lying down.

If you were already physically active before your treatment, you may need to exercise at a lower intensity or for less time than you were prior to beginning your treatment.

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 have finished treatment, increasing your levels of physical activity is essential to aid in the process of recovery. As a result of experiencing cancer and treatment, your body is likely to be deconditioned. 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

It is 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.

“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. Although general exercise guidelines likely benefit all individuals living with cancer, exercise should be approached with individual considerations.

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:

  • Age
  • Cancer type or where your cancer was
  • The treatments you have had and any side effects that remain from them
  • Your levels of physical functioning and fitness
  • Any limitations to exercise that you may have been advised about by your medical team

It is 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.