Being safe and physical activity
Some people may have concerns about becoming more active, but being active has fewer risks than being inactive. Try doing a little and often, perhaps doing something every day. As you become fitter you’ll find you can do more, so keep building it up. Common sense will guide you.
Your cancer type, treatment or any other conditions you have may influence the sort of activity that’s best for you. If you’re in any doubt, get advice from your doctor.
Your cancer treatment may affect the amount and type of physical activity that’s safe for you to do.
Chemotherapy lowers the number of cells in your blood. During chemotherapy treatment, you’re at more risk of getting infections, having problems with bruising or bleeding and being anaemic.
You’ll have to be careful if your platelets, which help the blood to clot, are low. If you have low numbers of red cells (anaemia), you’ll feel very tired and sometimes breathless. Your doctor may advise you to only do day-to-day activities until it improves. Your doctor can let you know when your blood cells have recovered.
Radiotherapy can cause skin reactions. You’ll need to avoid swimming during treatment because the chemicals in the water can irritate your skin. Once the skin redness and any reaction have gone, it’s no longer a problem.
It’s important to try to get active as soon as possible after surgery. Your doctor will advise you on the right exercises for you and how to gradually build these up. If you have arm or shoulder problems after surgery for breast cancer, ask to see a physiotherapist.
Hormonal therapy can increase the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis). Weight-bearing exercise such as walking, dancing or resistance training, helps keep your bones strong and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
Some other conditions and treatment may affect the physical activity that’s right for you.
Bone thinning (osteoporosis) and cancer affecting the bones
If you have bone thinning or cancer affecting the bones, you should avoid high-impact physical activities, such as running, jogging, football or hockey. There’s more risk of falling and causing a bone to break (fracture) with these activities. Don’t do exercises that involve bending forward at the waist, such as toe touching.
Suitable activities that can help are walking, dancing, climbing stairs, swimming and resistance exercises. It’s also important to do exercises that improve your coordination and balance to reduce your risk of falling. This can include dance, exercise to music and Tai Chi.
Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
Some chemotherapy drugs can damage the nerves. This causes numbness or tingling in your hands or feet, muscle weakness or difficulty with balance and coordination. It’s important to avoid exercise where you could easily fall.
Always wear a compression garment when you exercise. Avoid doing lots of repetitive action with the affected limb. Swimming can be a helpful activity if you have lymphoedema, but there are other exercises you can do as well. Build up the physical activity involving your arm or leg slowly and ask your lymphoedema specialist for advice.
Heart or lung problems
Most people with heart or lung problems can get involved in regular physical activity that benefits them. You’ll need to check with your doctor or specialist before starting any exercise programme.
Medicines to thin the blood
If you’re taking any medicines to thin the blood, avoid exercise that could result in bruising from a fall or blow.
General advice about physical activity
Don’t exercise if you feel unwell or have any symptoms that worry you.
Wear well-fitting shoes, such as trainers – don’t chance an injury by wearing the wrong gear.
Drink plenty of water so you don’t get dehydrated.
Have something healthy to eat that includes carbohydrates about two hours before you start, and a healthy snack within 30 minutes of finishing.
Avoid uneven surfaces and activities that increase the risk of falling or hurting yourself (especially if you have bone problems).
Stop if you feel dizzy, have chest pain, a racing heart, breathing problems or any other sudden symptoms – contact your doctor.