Every two minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer. Traditionally, a diagnosis would come with the advice to rest as much as possible, but now experts are now calling for exercise to be prescribed to patients, after reviewing evidence of its benefits.
A global panel of cancer organisations found that working out was positive in terms of prevention, treatment, recovery and improved survival, and recommended that cancer patients incorporate exercise to help improve survival after a diagnosis of breast, colon and prostate cancer.
According to cancer charity Macmillan, some of the benefits of keeping fit, both during and after treatment, include improving your mood, helping to fight depression and anxiety, reducing tiredness, and strengthening your muscles, joints and bones.
While there are currently no official guidelines regarding exercising after and during cancer treatment, there is increasing evidence and studies that suggest it’s largely safe and helpful.
However, you should always check with your doctor before starting any type of exercise if you have cancer, as it may not always be safe for you in particular. For instance, if you have stomach or other digestive system cancers, or cancer that has spread to the bone, you’re advised not to lift heavy weights, and some treatments can make it unsafe to swim.
That being said, here are a few exercise ideas that you might want to run past your doctor, if you’re keen to give exercise a try…
Macmillan say cancer patients should opt for low-to moderate-intensity exercise rather than trying to lift heavy, or sprint hard, in the gym.
Going for a daily, gentle walk is a great way to boost your mood and achieve your daily recommended target of 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. A walk in the autumn sun could also boost your vitamin D levels, which is important for increasing energy levels and fighting the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
It might not be intensely aerobic, but yoga is an incredibly therapeutic activity that can help calm the mind in the midst of a cancer battle.
It can help you relax by encouraging deep breathing, while improving strength and flexibility, and boosting a sense of wellbeing.
In general, it’s advised to find a qualified teacher who can make adjustments if you need them, but there are lots of follow-along yoga videos, specifically created for cancer patients, on YouTube too.
Getting out into the garden is a great way to do some aerobic exercise that will work your heart and lungs.
All that squatting, raking, mowing and forking gives your major muscle groups a workout, without you really realising you’re getting a sweat on.
At the end of your efforts, you’ll also have a lovely patch of greenery to gaze out upon too.
Building muscular strength doesn’t necessarily mean picking up a heavy barbell in the gym or throwing sandbags over your shoulder.
Simple ‘sit to stand’ exercises – where you spend 10 minutes a day doing just that on a chair – is a really easy muscle building exercise that has benefits for bones and joints too. It’s a light exercise you can do at home while building up your strength.
Remember: The best advice is to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your fitness for any particular sport or activity. Everyone is different, and your GP can take into account your overall fitness, diagnosis, and other factors that could affect safety, before advising you on what types of exercise to do.