Staying active

Staying active is one of the many things you can do for yourself after a diagnosis of cancer – we believe everyone diagnosed with cancer should be supported to reach their full physical potential.

This page will explain why it is important to be physically active after a diagnosis of cancer. It will offer links to more information and outline some of the services and resources currently available.

Some benefits of staying active

We know that for people with some cancers, including breast, colorectal and prostate cancers, being more active after cancer treatment can help reduce the risk of recurrence and increase survival. Being active during and after treatment also reduces the risk of getting other long term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease and managing the symptoms from these conditions. The World Cancer Research Fund recommend being physically active as part of everyday life – to walk more and sit less. Read more here 

Avoiding inactivity

Many adults in the UK spend long periods of the day sitting. Unless you are a wheelchair user, sitting down too much can be a further risk to your health. Moving more and sitting less, breaking up periods of sitting with some activity for just 1 to 2 minutes is recommended by the UK Chief Medical Officers. This is good advice for people with cancer finding it difficult to be physically active for any reason.

Is there anything I need to consider before exercising?

  • If you are unsure what and how much you can do, speak to your medical team or physiotherapist before starting 
  • Gradually build up how much you do in terms of amount and 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 exercise at high intensity 
  • If you have balance problems, or know you are at risk of bone fracture due to bone metastases or osteoporosis, contact your physiotherapist for guidance

What type of physical activity is best?

For maximum benefit physical activity should be something you enjoy and can fit into your daily life. We know that a combination of cardiovascular exercise (activities which will make you warmer and slightly out of breath) and strengthening exercises work best.  If you are at risk of osteoporosis then resistance and weight-bearing exercises are also highly beneficial. For anyone who has had a trip, a fall or is over 65 years of age, regular balance exercises are recommended.

How much should I aim to do?

The Department of Health and Social Care guidelines recommend aiming to be active daily:

  • for adults this should be at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity
  • doing physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least 2 days a week
  • spending less time sitting.

Further details about this can be accessed here

During treatment it is not always possible or appropriate to meet these guidelines but maintaining some physical activity is still important and beneficial.

These are some of the services currently available for RM patients 

If you find that you can’t get back to the level of activity you would like to be at, Royal Marsden patients can request an appointment with the physiotherapy department. 

  • 1:1 sessions with Physiotherapists or our Exercise Instructor who are oncology specialists
  • 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 our experienced teacher are available weekly in the Physiotherapy Department in Chelsea and at the Maggie’s in Sutton. Patients can self-refer and attend up to six free sessions. Click here for more information and a recording of a mindful movement session with our yoga teacher.

More sources of information and support for staying active

  • Exercise at home: three progressive exercise circuits to keep you active at home, designed by the RM oncology exercise team
  • Strength training: two resistance training videos designed by our exercise oncology team to maintain or improve your muscle strength
  • Exercise advice for patients on discharge from hospital
  • Sport England – Join the Movement: provides information and links to a range of physical activity options in and around your home
  • Cancer Wellbeing London: physical activity guide including advice about managing fatigue
  • Macmillan Cancer Support: provide information and advice about keeping active. There are 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: many local councils and GPs can refer people with cancer to sports and exercise programmes in the community

How we are listening to patients

We work with patients and their carers to improve the physical activity support we offer. Here is an example of how we are listening to patients:

Here are links to useful resources to help ensure you eat well and cope with anxiety.