Keeping active

It can be hard to keep moving while you are having cancer treatment, but exercise can make you feel better

Alongside eating well, it is important to keep active when you have cancer. Making time for physical activity can have many benefits.

What are the benefits of keeping active?

There’s growing evidence that people who are active before and after a cancer diagnosis have a better chance of survival. On top of this, physical activity can:

  • Help reduce fatigue
  • Boost your immune system
  • Keep your heart and lungs healthy
  • Reduce the risk of other diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Improve your muscle strength and reduce muscle loss. This is especially important if you’re losing weight as a result of cancer or cancer treatment
  • Improve your ability to absorb the nutrients from your food
  • Help reduce anxiety and depression, and improve your mood
  • Help with some of the other side-effects, such as easing constipation by helping to move food through your bowel

Is it safe for me to exercise?

Generally, it’s safe, and beneficial, for people with cancer to exercise. However, it’s best to start slowly and build up if you aren't used to exercising regularly. You may also want to let your doctor or nurse know if you want to start being more active as they might be able to signpost you towards an appropriately qualified exercise specialist who can give you individual advice and support.

How can I get more active?

It can be tricky to know where to start, so here are some tips:

  • Start at a level that’s right for you – this will probably depend on how much exercise you’ve done in the past, what stage you’re at with your cancer and treatment, and how well you’re feeling.
  • It can be especially hard if you are feeling tired, but even doing a small amount of activity is better than nothing. Exercising with a friend or relative can also help to make it more enjoyable.
  • Ideally you should aim to do 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or swimming, three to five days a week.
  • This might sound like a lot if you haven’t exercised for a long time, so try to start small and set yourself achievable goals. You could begin with a five to ten-minute walk, two or three times a week. As this starts to feel easier, you can build up the amount you do.

What sort of activity should I do?

A good way to get more active is by walking. Going for a walk every day gets you out into the fresh air and will make sure you aren’t completely inactive.

It sounds obvious, but try to pick activities you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be a sport or exercising in the gym – it could be swimming, gardening or dancing.

Try some strengthening exercises too

These will help stimulate muscle growth and help prevent you losing muscle and strength. Strength exercises can be done using free weights (eg dumbbells or even water bottles or cans of food), weight machines or resistance bands. You can also do exercises that use your own body weight, such as squats or press-ups. Everyday activities like carrying shopping can also help.

For more ideas, read our booklet Move More.

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