Different ways of being active

There is no one activity that is best for everyone. Choose activities you enjoy and that fit in with your life. If possible, do a mix of activities that improve your aerobic fitness, strength and flexibility.

In the UK adults are advised to include different activities and do at least 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of physical activity a week. After treatment, and only if you are able, you can gradually try to increase your activity to build up to this.

Choose activities you enjoy and, if possible, do a mix of activities:

  • Aerobic exercises – walking, gardening, dancing, running and jogging, cycling or swimming – are good for heart health.
  • Resistance/strength exercises – lifting small weights or ‘sit to stand’ exercises that you can do at home – help strengthen muscle.
  • Flexibility exercises – stretches, yoga, tai chi/ qi gong – improve suppleness.
  • Balance exercises – yoga, tai chi, pilates and qi gong – help with balance and strength.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise works your heart and lungs and uses large muscle groups, such as those in your legs. It does this repetitively for a period of time. It makes you breathe harder and raises your heart rate, so your heart works harder to pump blood through the body. It is particularly good for your heart and cardiovascular system. These are some common aerobic exercises:

  • Daily activities. Taking the stairs, doing housework, gardening, walking a dog and playing games with children are all considered moderate-intensity activities by the World Health Organisation.
  • Walking briskly. This is one of the simplest and most effective aerobic exercises. It is also a weight-bearing exercise, because your feet and legs support your body’s weight. This means it’s good for strengthening your bones (the spine, pelvis and leg bones). All you need are comfortable walking shoes.
  • Gardening. This is a way of enjoying some physical activity outdoors. It can also be therapeutic to watch your garden grow. If you don’t have access to a garden, there are schemes across the UK where you can garden, grow fruit and vegetables or take part in nature conservation, for example green gyms. Visit your local authority’s website to see what schemes might be available near you.
  • Running and jogging. These can be considered as vigorous activity. They are great for your heart and lungs, and they are weight-bearing exercises. These activities are high impact and may put stress on your spine and joints. So if you have bone or joint problems, you should choose something gentler, such as jogging on a trampoline.
  • Cycling and swimming. These are good for your heart and lungs. They strengthen your muscles but put very little strain on your joints, because they are weight-supported exercises. They can be good activities if you have bone or joint pain. Swimming is particularly beneficial if you have lymphoedema. Swimming is not recommended if you have irritated skin due to radiotherapy, or if you’re having chemotherapy – especially if you have a PICC line or central line.
  • Group exercise. There are other aerobic exercise options that you could do with a friend or a group. These include aerobics classes, dancing, golf, tennis, badminton and bowling.

Exercise intensity

If you haven’t been active for a long time, increase your activity slowly. Try to do a little more in time and distance each week. When you’re comfortable doing an activity for longer, you can think about increasing the intensity, for example walking the same distance but in a shorter time.

This is how it feels to be active at different intensities:

  • Light intensity – You are breathing and talking easily and it doesn’t feel like there is a lot of effort involved.
  • Moderate intensity – Your breathing is quicker and deeper, but you are able to talk. Your body warms up, your face has a healthy glow and your heart is beating faster than normal but not racing.
  • Vigorous or high intensity – You are breathing very hard, so you can’t carry on a conversation. Your heartbeat feels fast.


Resistance/strength exercises

These exercises involve making your muscles work harder than usual, against some form of resistance. They strengthen muscles, bones and joints. They may also improve your balance. This is a good activity if you have, or are at risk of, bone problems. But it’s not good if you have secondary bone cancer. Having good muscle strength makes it easier to do day-to-day things for yourself, so it can help you be more independent.

The exercises can be done with hand weights, machines or elastic bands. You can do simple exercises at home, such as lifting cans of food or bottles of water. There are more examples of the types of exercise you can do at home on the DVD in our guide Move more: your guide to becoming more active . Call us on 0808 808 00 00 to order a copy.

There are other simple resistance exercises you can do at home using a chair. These include ‘sit to stand’ and calf raises, or you can do press-ups against a wall. The NHS Choices website shows you how to do these and other simple exercises safely at home. These exercises are aimed at older people, but they are appropriate for people of any age who are not strong but want to start moving during treatment or while they are living with cancer.

Some exercise classes focus specifically on exercises you do while sitting down. Ask your GP or nurse if there are any in your local area, or call your local leisure centre to see what is available.

If you are doing a gym-based programme with resistance machines and free weights, make sure you get instruction from a qualified exercise specialist who has knowledge of cancer and its treatment.


Flexibility exercises

Having flexible joints helps you stay supple and prevents injuries and strains. Simple stretching exercises are a good way to start, especially if you have been unwell. The NHS Choices website has some stretches you can do. It’s best to do these stretches as a daily routine. They will only take you a few minutes.

Yoga, tai chi and qi gong are also good for flexibility. They use breathing techniques combined with body movements. They can also help you relax and reduce stress.


Balance exercises

Yoga, tai chi, pilates, body balance and qi gong help increase balance and strength. Cycling and dancing are also good for your balance.

Later Life Training can send you booklets about simple balance exercises you can do at home. These are good for building strength, whatever your age.

The table below lists different activities and how they help improve your stamina, strength, flexibility and balance. It has been adapted from the British Heart Foundation’s booklet Get active, stay active.

Activity

Aerobic/stamina

Strength

Flexibility

Balance

Aerobic classes at a gym

X

X


X

Badminton

X


X

X

Brisk walking/walking uphill

X

X



Canoeing / dragon boating

X

X

X


Climbing stairs

X

X


X

Cycling

X

X


X

Dancing

X


X

X

DIY


X

X

X

Football

X

X


X

Mowing the lawn

X

X

X


Pilates/Tai Chi/yoga/ Qi Gong


X

X

X

Vacuuming

X


X


Washing the car

X

X

X

X

Water aerobics

X

X


X

Yoga


X

X

X

Back to Keeping active

Who can help you get active

Talk to your physiotherapist or your doctor before you start doing physical activity. They’ll point you to appropriate exercise programmes.

Tips to get you started

You may find keeping active after a cancer diagnosis challenging. There are some tips that can get you started.

Activities near you

Several organisations and websites can help you find out what activities are available near you.