Exercise in Cancer Care
Updated: May 7
As a specialist exercise instructor in cancer care, a CanRehab instructor and qualified Pink Ribbon Post Rehab Exercise Specialist, I know just how important exercise following a diagnosis of cancer can be. Having worked with many patients with cancer through my role at the Christie and hospice care, I often see remarkable results and an improvement in physical and emotional wellbeing when patients feel able to move more. Whether it’s physiotherapy for patients with cancer or running one of our dedicated Pink Ribbon courses, we often see positive results for patients when they start to reintroduce exercise either during or after treatment.
I work with patients at all stages of the cancer journey including before starting treatment (prehabilitation), after surgery, during chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and after treatment has ended. I also support patients with exercise during palliative care.
If you are currently undergoing treatment for cancer or are living with cancer, you may be wondering what the benefits of exercise and physical activity are and how you can incorporate it safely into your routine. Here’s why exercise in cancer care is so important.
Why is exercise in cancer care important?
Some of the benefits of physical activity include:
- Reduced tiredness (fatigue) – increased energy
- Improved heart health
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Stronger muscles
- Stronger bones
- Weight loss/healthy weight maintenance
- Increased flexibility
These are all massively important benefits for anyone living with cancer, and can all help to minimise the impact of the cancer itself and any treatment you may be undergoing.
Exercise is great for you both during and after cancer treatment. Build up slowly, and go at your own pace. Your energy levels will change day-to-day during treatment especially, so the key is to listen to your body. The main thing is ensuring that you’re physically active on a regular basis, whatever that may look like for you.
What counts as exercise?
Any kind of physical activity is helpful. This could be walking, yoga, cycling – even doing housework or taking the stairs instead of the lift. Try to combine exercises that focus on strength with aerobic exercise (to get your heart rate up) for optimal benefits.
Being active every day doesn’t just mean taking time out to exercise – it also means getting off the bus a stop earlier, getting up to stretch your legs after sitting at a desk for too long, and taking a short walk each day.
Take into account your diagnosis and current treatment, and speak with your consultant or other health professional to make sure any planned activity is safe for you.
Exercise during palliative care
I also include exercise in my treatment with palliative patients. They may be living with incurable cancer, or another life limiting illness for many years and exercise really helps to maintain strength, function, independence and quality of life. Again, choosing which type of exercise you’d like to do not only depends on your condition but also your preference – maybe there’s something you really love to do, or would like to try. Exercise should ideally have the added bonus of being mentally stimulating and enjoyable, so always speak with your physiotherapist or health professional to discuss which types of exercise may be beneficial to you.
Find out more about our specialist cancer care support here.
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