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Physical activity and cancer

Unfortunately, physical activity levels tend to significantly decrease for people during and after their cancer treatment.

This can lead to further exacerbations of physical symptoms such as cancer related fatigue, loss of muscle strength and fitness, and reduced mobility. This can impact on the things you enjoy doing most.

Studies continue to show that physical activity can help reduce these effects.

Being physically active does not mean sweating it out in the gym or pounding the pavement in your joggers, it could be brisk walking with your friends, gardening or even playing with your children or grandchildren.

Benefits of increasing your physical activity levels

Studies have shown really exciting results supporting physical activity pre, during or post cancer diagnosis and treatment. These include:

  • Significant improvements in general fitness and muscle strength during or post chemotherapy, radiotherapy or hormonal therapy
    • Keeping you mobile and agile allowing you to maintain your independence
  • Significantly lower levels or fatigue after completing treatment. Interestingly, studies continue to show no further exacerbation of fatigue with physical activity during treatment.
  • Improve your mood and significantly improve your sense of well being; lowering anxiety and depression levels
  • Gain a sense of control when you feel you have so little
  • Improve sleep patterns, memory and concentration
  • Maintain a healthy weight (along with a healthy diet)
  • Help reduce the risk of developing another chronic health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease.
    • Participating in physical activity alone can decrease the risk of developing another condition by 20-50% and can help manage chronic conditions
    • 49% of cancer survivors have at least one other chronic condition, such as diabetes
  • Reduce your risk of falls
  • In some cancers, including breast, colorectal and prostate, being more active can help decrease the risk of recurrence and increase survival

How much should I do?

The Department of Health currently recommend the following physical activity guidelines:

  • 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity within a week; i.e. 30 minutes of exercises, 5 times a week.
  • During or immediately after your treatment it may not be appropriate to exercise or this may be too much. Your 30 minutes can be further broken down into 10 minute intervals.
  • It is important to maintain some physical activity by finding the right balance initially for you
  • Whilst exercising you want to feel a little warmer, breathe a little harder and get your heart beating faster. However, you should still be able to maintain a conversation with someone
  • For some people, these guidelines may already be achieved. Further recommendations are 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week
  • Cardiovascular exercise is important to improve overall fitness and stamina however we need to ensure we incorporate strengthening exercises, such as weight bearing exercises to help manage osteoporosis

Do I need to consider anything before I start exercising?

Is it safe for me to exercise? If you are unsure if it is safe for you to currently exercise, we recommend seeking advice from your GP or medical team at your hospital.

  • Depending on your situation, your physical activities may need to be modified to ensure you are safe yet effective
  • If you experience a ‘new’ or persistent pain, difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness or blurred vision or feeling sick. Please stop immediately and seek medical advice.
  • Seek guidance from Megan if you are at risk of a bone fracture due to bone metastases or osteoporosis or have reduced balance.
  • Remember to start slowly and gradually build up.

Some physical activities to think about

  • Brisk walking, Playing with children or grandchildren, House work
  • Pilates, Cycling, Swimming, Running, Tai Chi
  • Gym, Yoga, Gardening, Stretching and strengthening exercises

Remember, we are aiming to get slightly warmer, increase the heart rate and breath a little harder, whilst carrying on with a conversation.

You may be energetic at the start however it is important you find something you enjoy to continue to progress and manage in your daily life.

The specialist oncology team are based out of our Chelsea clinic. If you would like to make positive changes to your physical activities levels during or following your treatment, Megan leads this sensitive, caring service. We offer 1:1 individual advice sessions, pilates classes and can build and monitor individual exercise programmes.

If you would like to speak to any of them in confidence then please send an email with your contact details and one of them will get straight back to you.

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