Different ways of being active

The activities you do will depend on different factors. Make sure you keep to the level of activity that is appropriate for you.

In the UK adults are advised to include different activities and do at least 2.5 hours 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, dancing, running, cycling or swimming – are good for heart health.
  • Resistance 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.

How much physical activity is recommended

This section looks at current UK recommendations on physical activity, and the activities that can help you achieve these. How much you can do will depend on different factors. In the UK adults are advised to do at least 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of moderate intensity physical activity a week. For example, this could be 30 minutes of activity on five days of the week, which could be broken up into 10 minutes of activity three times a day. It’s important to gradually build up to this amount at a pace that’s comfortable for you.

It’s also important to do activities that improve muscle strength on at least two days of the week. If you are older or at risk of falling, you are also advised to do activities that improve coordination and balance on at least two days of the week. There is more information about strength exercises and about balance and flexibility below.

You can find out more about types of activity and the recommendations for people of different ages from the Department of Health (dh.gov.uk) and the World Health Organization (who.int).

Physical activity during cancer treatment

Physical activity during cancer treatment

Doctor Anna Campbell talks about the benefits of being physically active during and after cancer treatment.

About our cancer information videos

Physical activity during cancer treatment

Doctor Anna Campbell talks about the benefits of being physically active during and after cancer treatment.

About our cancer information videos


What types of activities should I do?

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise uses large muscle groups repetitively for a period. It raises your heart rate so that the heart works harder to pump blood through the body. It’s particularly good for your heart health.

Common aerobic exercises include:

  • Walking –is one of the simplest and best aerobic exercises. It is also a weight-bearing exercise; your feet and legs support your body’s weight, and so it’s good for strengthening your bones (spine, pelvis and leg bones). All you need are comfortable walking shoes.
  • Running and jogging – are also weight bearing exercises but choose something gentler if you have bone or joint problems. They’re high impact and may put stress on your spine and joints.
  • Cycling and swimming – are good for your heart and lungs. They strengthen your muscles and put very little strain on your joints so can be good activities if you have bone or joint pain.

Exercise intensity

If you haven’t been active for a long time, increase your activity gradually. 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 your speed.

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’s 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 that you can’t carry on a conversation and your heartbeat feels fast.

Resistance/strength exercise

This involves making your muscles work harder than usual against some form of resistance. It strengthens muscles, bones and joints and improves your balance. It’s a good activity if you have or are at risk of bone problems. Having muscle strength makes you more able to do day to day things for yourself and so helps you be 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.

Other simple strength exercises you can do at home, using a chair, are ‘sit to stand’ or ‘calf raises. Visit nhs.uk/tools/pages/exercises-for-older-people.aspx to see how to do these and other simple exercises safely at home.

If you’re doing a gym based programme with heavy weights make sure you take instruction from a qualified exercise specialist.

Flexibility exercise

Having flexible joints helps you to stay supple and prevent injuries and strains. Simple stretching exercises are a good way to start, especially if you have been unwell. Use the NHS Choices website for advice on some stretches you can do.

Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are good for flexibility. They use breathing techniques combined with body movements and can also help reduce stress.

Balance exercise

Yoga, Tai Chi, pilates 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 strength and balance exercises you can do at home. These are good for building strength, whatever your age is.

The table below lists different activities and how they can help improve your stamina, strength, flexibility and balance.

Table amended from Be active for life (British Heart Foundation, 2011)

 

Activity

Aerobic/stamina

Strength

Flexibility

Balance

Aerobic classes at a gym

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


Water aerobics

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.