Frequently asked questions about physical activity and cancer

25 January 2016
Elderly couple walking in park

At Bupa, our specialist oncology team often get asked about doing physical activity whilst having cancer treatment. These are some of the most asked questions and our advice.

1. What are the benefits of staying active for me and my health?

Some form of physical activity is important throughout every step of your cancer journey – during and after treatment, and once you’re well again too.

We know there are many benefits, such as reducing tiredness and some of the side-effects of treatment. It has also been shown to improve your mood and quality of life, makes you feel stronger and more mobile, keeps your heart healthy and reduces the risk of other health problems. It’s also been shown to reduce the risk of some cancers returning.

The activity you choose may vary at different points of your cancer journey and it’s important that you talk to your doctor, specialist nurse or physio for advice and guidance. They can help you decide what’s best for you. Activities that you could consider include anything from jobs around the house, to taking a walk to the shops or taking part in a gym class, cycling or yoga.

2. Is it safe for me to exercise?

We know that it’s important to stay active, but you need to decide what activity and what level of activity is right for you. You may need to discuss this with your doctor, specialist nurse or physio.

If you’ve had chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery recently, this will affect what type of activity you might choose. For example, your doctor may advise against going swimming if your white blood cell count is low. This is because you are at an increased risk of picking up an infection.

3. How do I get started?

To begin, think about what activity would be most appropriate for you. If you’re not sure what you should do, speak to your specialist nurse or physiotherapist.

It’s important to set realistic goals and to know your own limitations, and to listen to your body. It’s best to start with gentle, low- intensity activities and build up your activity levels slowly.

Tips to keep you motivated include joining a walking group or exercise class, walking to the shops and asking friends or family to join in with you. Most importantly, do what you enjoy!

4. How much exercise should I be doing?

The amount of activity that we recommend is in line with national guidelines, so we advise that you aim for 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity activity a week. This level of activity is measured as being able to have a conversation while you’re doing it, but having to take a few deep breaths.

Achieving this is individual and personal to you. Some people might find that it’s easier to break it down in to shorter bursts of activity throughout the day. For example, doing 10 minutes of chair exercises, three times a day. Other people who are at a different stage in their cancer journey might do something different. For example, they may find that they enjoy an hour-long walk with their family twice a week and also enjoy a half-hour gentle aerobics class. The important thing is to go at your own pace.

Here at Bupa we’ve made a promise to our health insurance customers that if they develop cancer whilst with us, we’ll aim to give the best treatment, support and information available.

Nurse at Bupa UK

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