Staying active

Staying or being more active during or after cancer treatment helps maintain or improve physical function and mood.

It can also reduce some treatment side-effects such as fatigue. In some cancers, including breast, colorectal and prostate, being more active after treatment can help reduce the risk of recurrence and increase survival.

Is there anything I need to consider before exercising?

  • Physical activities may need to be modified based on individual needs for effectiveness and safety
  • If unsure how much you can or should do, speak to your medical team or physiotherapist before starting
  • Gradually build up how much you do in terms of amount and physical effort
  • If symptoms such as pain, fatigue, nausea, breathlessness or dizziness increase, stop and seek medical advice
  • If you have a low white blood cell count, avoid high-intensity exercise and don't over-exert yourself
  • If you have balance problems, or know you are at risk of bone fracture due to bone metastases or osteoporosis, contact your medical team or physiotherapist for guidance

What type of exercise is best?

For maximum benefits physical activity should be something you enjoy and can manage in daily life. Cardiovascular exercise will improve stamina and overall fitness, while strengthening exercises are also important and if you are at risk of osteoporosis, weight-bearing exercises are beneficial.

How much should I aim to do?

The Department of Health's guidelines advise how much exercise adults should be doing, and apply to people with cancer. During treatment it is not always possible or appropriate to meet these guidelines but maintaining some physical activity is still important.

What can The Royal Marsden do to help?

  • Spring Into Action – participants meet with a physiotherapist and dietitian for individualised support regarding a healthy lifestyle. You can self-refer to this clinic for a one-off appointment
  • Exercise before surgery – the physiotherapy team run supervised exercise circuits in Chelsea and Sutton for patients who will be undergoing major surgery as part of their treatment. This aims to increase fitness, reduce the risk of complications following surgery, and improve recovery time. Referrals are made following anaesthetic assessment, and sessions take place twice weekly before surgery
  • Yoga – sessions with an experienced teacher are available weekly in the Physiotherapy Department in Chelsea, Sutton, and the William Rous Unit at Kingston. Patients can self-refer and attend up to six free sessions

Sources of information and support for staying active

  • Macmillan Cancer Support: provide information, publications and advice regarding keeping active with links to local services
  • Cancer Research UK: provides advice and further information regarding physical activity and cancer
  • NHS Choices: provides general information about healthy living and how to incorporate physical activity into your lifestyle
  • Physical Activity Referral Schemes: most local councils and GPs can refer people with cancer to sports and exercise programmes in the community. Speak to your local council or GP