Exercise and cancer: Your guide to safe movement

Exercise and cancer: Your guide to safe movement

Dealing with cancer is life changing, but there are things you can do to help your mind and body. It might sound surprising when you’re likely feeling the strain of treatment, but moving your body can help you to feel better, both physically and emotionally, during your cancer journey.

Before you take up a new sport or try a rigorous activity, it is always a good idea to speak to your doctor, even if you were incredibly active before treatment. You will have to be more careful and explore new ways to exercise safely.

How exercise can help cancer patients

Exercise offers a wide variety of benefits, whether you're currently undergoing treatment or not.

  • Boost your strength: Cancer treatments can make you feel weak. This is to be expected with the strain that your body is under. With exercise, and especially a tailored exercise plan, you can actually get stronger, making everyday tasks slightly easier and gradually rebuilding your mobility.
  • Supercharge your immune system: Think of exercise as your body's superhero training. It helps your immune system fight off illnesses and keeps you healthier. This can be especially important when you’re recovering from treatment or feeling the side effects.
  • Happiness booster: When you exercise, your body releases happy chemicals called endorphins. They're like little mood-lifters, helping you feel less down, even when things are tough.
  • Pain management: Many people with cancer struggle with pain. Believe it or not, exercise can help manage that pain and make you feel better overall.
  • More energy: Yes, exercise can actually give you more energy! It can help you feel less tired, even on days when cancer treatments can leave you feeling drained.

How to exercise safely

Getting active during and after cancer treatment is not just a good idea; it's backed by the American College of Sports Medicine and supported by the National Cancer Institute

These guidelines emphasise that physical activity is safe even during cancer treatment. In fact, it's encouraged to avoid inactivity and aim to return to your usual activities as soon as possible after treatment. 

This guidance isn't about pushing your limits but rather about helping you feel better and more resilient on your cancer journey.

Tips for exercising safely

  1. Start slow: If you're new to exercise, or are just starting to get back into the swing of things, take it easy. Begin with simple activities like short walks, gentle stretches, or maybe even some relaxing yoga. You can slowly make things a bit more challenging as you get stronger.
  2. Stay hydrated: Make sure you drink plenty of water, especially if cancer treatments make you feel nauseous. You need to make sure your body is fueled for exercise with good nutrition and hydration.
  3. Listen to your body: Pay attention to how you feel during exercise. If you ever feel overly tired, are experiencing pain, dizziness, or are very out of breath, it's okay to stop. 
  4. Flexibility and mobility: Balance and flexibility exercises are a great asset. They can help you to strengthen, move better, and generally avoid balance-related accidents.
  5. Build strength safely: If you want to do exercises that focus on muscle strength, try to do them with someone who knows what they're doing, like a trainer or physical therapist.
  6. Rest: After exercise, make sure you give your body time to rest and recover properly. Similarly if you are feeling tired, don’t feel guilty about missing a session.
  7. Get social: Consider joining a group exercise class or finding an exercise buddy. It's more fun when you have friends along for the ride!

Remember, your cancer journey is unique, just like you. What works for one person might not work for another. So, talk to your healthcare team, and work together to figure out the best exercise plan for you and where your limits are.