Physical activity and cancer

Physical activity is any movement of the body which uses energy. There’s good quality research evidence to suggest physical activity helps with the numerous cancer-specific symptoms we face, such as anxiety and fatigue, lymphoedema and weight management. This month we’ve released the latest evidence-based information sheet on the physical activities you can take part in at Penny Brohn UK.

The benefits of physical activity

We know from research by the World Cancer Research Foundation that physical activity and a healthy weight can prevent up to 15 cancers (three are linked to physical activity and movement). But we also know that the majority of cancers are not linked to our lifestyles, therefore our focus is always on how you can live well with cancer and achieve the best health and wellbeing, rather than focusing on what may have caused your cancer.

Physical activity in any form (we like to say gardening, shopping and playing with children are forms of ‘exercise’) is good for all of us at all stages of our lives, but as someone with cancer, undergoing treatment or who has just been given the ‘all clear’ you may not know what is safe to do.

We follow the Department of Health’s guidelines, suggesting that people work towards achieving 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five times per week.

Here are a few tips for you to consider before starting to fit exercise into your daily life:

  • Any form of physical activity is recommended and far outweighs being inactive.
  • Aerobic exercise, resistance training and flexibility training are all useful in different ways and an ideal exercise programme will involve a little of all three.
  • Start exercise in small amounts, and gradually increase your regime.
  • Start with a warm-up and end with a cool-down to give your muscles a stretch.
  • Get a little digital help with an exercise app such as the Active 10 app.
  • Opt for walking instead of driving where and when you can; such as a walk to the shops, walking to school or jumping off the bus a stop early.

Above all we recommend a form of exercise that brings you enjoyment. Don’t be afraid to explore and test out different activities until you find out what suits you best.

The evidence bit

It’s understandable that you may be nervous about taking up exercise at any point in your cancer experience. Our evidence-based sheets are compiled from numerous studies and trials of exercises from around the world, and also include the experience from the people who take part in our regular activities; such as Nordic walking, yoga and Qi Gong. These sheets are available to help you make informed decisions about your care and can give you the confidence to speak to your oncology team about what you need to live well with cancer.

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