Hands up if you hated PE at school? It seems like the world is split into two camps. Those who loved it and those who absolutely did not. Whatever camp you fell into, exercising beyond school can be a bit of a battle. It's something we all know we need to do, but life can sometimes get in the way. For some of us life gets in the way even more when we're diagnosed with cancer. And exercising becomes a whole other netball game.

Despite the fact exercising with or beyond cancer can feel harder than running cross country if you were in the 'hated PE' group, it's actually really important. According to the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia, exercise should be embedded into every part of the cancer pathway, because it helps with sleep, quality of life, activity levels, fatigue, mental health and the recurrence of some types of cancer as well as helping with some treatment side effects and lessening symptoms. Sounds great, right? But many patients aren't getting the memo. You're not hearing it from your oncologists, your surgeons or your wider medical teams. And if you do hear about it, there's still plenty stopping you from getting active.

So we're breaking down the barriers to cancer and exercise.

You've told us what stops you from pulling on your trainers and getting to the gym. We've brought in our RENEW Cancer Rehab experts to tackle your concerns. 

I don't think I can exercise during treatment

We get it. Cancer treatment can completely wipe you out. Whether you're dealing with fatigue (which feels like jet-lag, flu and the worst hangover you've ever had, all rolled into one), recovering from surgery or you've got a PICC or a Hickman line in, knowing how to exercise or even if you should exercise feels 🤯. If you're an inpatient, the most you might be able to do is walk around the ward you're on. But you absolutely can exercise when during treatment and you absolutely should. The first thing you need to do? Speak to your team to make sure you're good to go. Then it's about working with your body, trusting your limits and not pushing yourself too hard. Remember, even a gentle walk around the block still counts as exercise.

If you're in treatment you might be doing less so you might be a little more deconditioned which means you might be slightly more injury prone. Tailoring your exercise, building up slowly and not doing too much too soon is even more important than ever before. If you've had surgery or you've got a line in, you also need to be more aware of which direction you're moving, how much pressure and tension you're putting on certain limbs. Chat to a personal trainer and explain your situation if you want to do anything more than gently exercising.

I'm worried about my physical limitations

It's no secret that your body can change in cancer treatment. Knowing how to navigate that can feel overwhelming. If you're worried about your physical limitations, you should talk to your medical team and ask if there's anything you shouldn't be doing. People are often surprised at what their body can do, despite living with cancer. You might feel like you're at the absolute bottom of your abilities, but we've seen first hand that bodies are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for.

Remember you don't have to go hell for leather. A gentler form of exercise, such as yoga, pilates, walking or swimming, doesn’t mean it’s not as hard. All of these exercises are still hugely beneficial and can improve overall healthy and strength.

It's also about appreciating that your normal is different on every other day what was easy last week may not be possible today and that's okay.

I'm just *so* tired

Preach it. Fatigue is a jerk. The most important thing about navigating fatigue is learning what it feels like for you. It can be really helpful to start to grade your fatigue by looking at it on both a daily and weekly basis. This might help you to get a baseline for where you are in that moment so you can figure out if it'll be beneficial to exercise or not. A really helpful tool is a fatigue diary to help you monitor what you've been doing that might have improved or worsened your fatigue, whether that's exercise or just daily life.

Then it can be helpful to use three P's to help you work certain things into your day - pacing, priority and planning. If something is important to you in your daily life, prioritise it, plan it in and pace yourself for it. If you know you want to exercise because it's good for your fatigue, prioritise it, plan it into your day, see what you're doing around it and schedule in some rest around it too.

I'm scared of exercising now

Fear of exercising during or post cancer treatment is real. V real. And we get it. Everything has changed. Your body has changed. You might feel like it let you down. You might be scared of hurting yourself. But we heard a great quote from Jack, who is part of the Trekstock community which really stuck with us. He said 'If you say you can you might. If you say you can't you're right'. He told us that in relation to his own fitness journey post cancer diagnosis and encouraged everyone to 'just take that step', even if you feel nervous. With the right support you'll soon learn how to exercise in a way that works for you. This can help you come back to your body which is a key part of healing after a cancer diagnosis.

Coming back to your body after a cancer diagnosis is a key part of healing. Exercise can be a great tool for that.
I don't know what's safe

Right. This is a big one. The parameters of what your body can do might have changed dramatically when you've had a cancer diagnosis. Knowing what's safe feels like a mystery to be solved by Miss Marple. The key? Learning to listen to your body and learning to listen to an expert who can guide you through what works for you. Every time you exercise is money in the bank which adds up to your overall health. Learning not to push yourself to injury because your body needs a little extra TLC takes time but the benefits are endless.

My motivation is MIA. AWOL. Gone with the wind.

Getting yourself to the gym can be a mission when you don't have cancer. If you've got fatigue, if you're struggling with the impact of surgery, if you're just bloody scared of what you might do to your body when you're exercising, it's even harder. Motivation? I don't know her! Firstly, it's important to be patient. Your motivation might come and go but if you're thinking about exercising, even a little, it'll come at some point. Keep your routine flexible but set clear goals that will help you achieve what you want to. These might be around having more range of motion or improving your mood or strength.

Having goals that you can track will help you find motivation and grab hold of it when it does put in an appearance.

I don't know where to start?!

Knowing where to start with exercise can feel really overwhelming, but strength training is the best place to begin. Keeping your muscles going is really important so things like squats, presses and lunges are great to integrate into your routine. You don't need special equipment either - you can use tennis balls for balance exercises, pop books into rucksacks to help you add to your bodyweight or use laundry detergent to row with. You might even find that once your muscles start feeling a little bit stronger you might want to increase your exercises. For some people once their strength is increased, they start thinking about walking or running. 

If you want to train with weights, build up slowly and so always seek advice from a fitness professional. Start with your body weight rather than adding in additional weights.

Join us for our Lifting the Lid on Getting Moving with Cancer event Wed 21st September at Samsung KX

Whatever barriers to exercise you're facing, building movement into your life after a cancer diagnosis is so beneficial. It's just about knowing how to do it. If you want to get started but need a little push, sign up to RENEW. It's our eight-week exercise programme, designed to help you keep moving through and beyond cancer, whatever your diagnosis, however you're feeling. Pull on your trainers and get to the gym. We guarantee you'll be feeling stronger in no time.