Who can help you get active?

It’s important to get advice before you start becoming more active. Your cancer doctor, GP or specialist nurse can tell you what type of exercise is most appropriate for you.

You can also get support from a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist. Your physiotherapist can show you exercises that will help improve your fitness. An occupational therapist can show you ways to help you to save your energy so that you can take some gentle physical activity.

You may find it helpful and easier to exercise in a group. If that’s the case, your GP may be able to refer you to a local or community exercise scheme. Those schemes are run by exercise professionals trained to work with people who have different medical conditions. It is important to check that your local trainer has experience of working with people affected by cancer. They will be able to adapt the exercises to your needs.


Your GP or cancer specialist can usually arrange a referral if there are problems you need advice about. Or you may be able to self refer. A physiotherapist or a qualified cancer exercise specialist, if you have one, can help you:

  • build your physical fitness
  • improve your energy, strength, joint range of movement, coordination and balance
  • manage the side effects or after effects of treatment
  • enjoy and increase your physical activities and avoid injuries.

You can ask questions, such as:

  • ‘I’ve never exercised before – how should I start?’
  • ‘I was very active before my diagnosis – will I be able to get back to the same level?’
  • ‘How can I improve my shortness of breath and feel less tired?’
  • ‘How can I improve my balance?’
  • ‘Can I improve the strength of my hands, arms or legs?’
  • ‘How can I manage fatigue and balance work and home life?’
  • ‘Which exercises can help me get up the stairs?’

If you have more specific needs they can arrange a rehabilitation programme for you.

David hugging his Macmillan physiotherapist, Karen.

David on getting support

'Without Macmillan I know I wouldn’t have lasted a year. I don’t think I would have had the fight.'

Your doctor

You can talk to your cancer doctor, specialist nurse or GP before you start. Some GPs, cancer treatment centres or support groups have exercise referral schemes to help people become healthier and more active after illnesses like cancer. There may be an exercise programme that’s part of some research at your cancer treatment centre. Ask your cancer doctor or nurse for more information and advice.

Exercise referral schemes

Many people find they are more motivated to keep up their activity by exercising as part of a group. These may be at community centres, healthy living or leisure centres.

Ask your GP or hospital doctor if there’s one in your area and check with your local community or leisure centre. Not all areas have one or it may be restricted to certain medical conditions.

Specially trained exercise professionals are in charge of these schemes. But it’s a good idea to check first that they have been trained to work with people who have/had cancer. When making a referral, your doctor will share some information about your health with the exercise professional. This is kept confidential.

Your trainer will explain the benefits and risks of increasing your physical activity. You’ll be asked to give your consent which means you agree to the exercise plan and understand the benefits and risks.

They will advise you whether it’s best to exercise in a group or on your own. Your trainer will match the activities to your individual needs.

Some areas also have schemes in care homes, hospices and day centres. They often include activities like walking, dancing, Pilates, aerobics, Tai Chi or yoga.

Occupational therapist

An occupational therapist can help you manage your day-to-day activities. Your GP or cancer specialist can arrange a referral for you. They can teach you how to manage tiredness and suggest changes to your home to make it safer and help you be more independent. Doing simple things for yourself is a way of increasing your physical activity. If things are easier at home, you have more time and energy to do things like walking or gardening.

Wendy, occupational therapist

Wendy, occupational therapist

Wendy runs hydrotherapy sessions in the swimming pool and provides tai chi classes to help with stress management.

Wendy, occupational therapist

Wendy runs hydrotherapy sessions in the swimming pool and provides tai chi classes to help with stress management.

Back to Keeping active

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.