Looking after your immune system

Coronavirus and your immune system

The latest guidance about coronavirus

Updated Tuesday 11 May 2021

Restrictions are beginning to ease around the UK. However, it is important that you continue to follow the latest government advice for where you live in the UK.

Visit government websites for guidance on what you can and cannot do in:

As the vaccination programme continues to roll out, we understand that people with cancer and their friends and family will have a lot of questions. We have more information about different coronavirus vaccines.

The immune system is the body's defence against viruses like coronavirus (COVID-19), bacteria, and other foreign organisms or harmful chemicals. The blood and the lymphatic system are part of the immune system.

How cancer affects your immune system

Some types of cancer can affect your immune system. For example, blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukaemia.

Some cancer treatments also affect the immune system. This includes chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Radiotherapy may sometimes affect your immune system. Most people’s immune system will recover well after they have finished their treatment.

Improving your immune system

Lots of people have asked us questions about how to improve their immune system. Some of the best things you can do to make sure your immune system is working at its best is to eat well, stay hydrated, keep active and have enough rest, for example getting a good night’s sleep. 

We know the current situation is making it tougher, particularly as we need to stay at home or self-isolate. On this page you’ll find information to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle, even while staying at home.

Keeping active at home

It can be difficult to keep active when you can’t leave your home, but there are lots of great resources online to help you.

We recommend you take some time to search online and find what works for you. Here are some options to help you get started.

Macmillan’s Move More online exercise programme

Warm up: The first part of the exercise programme features a series of exercises designed to warm up your muscles and get your blood flowing ready for exercise.


Cardiovascular: The second part features a series of exercises designed to work the heart and lungs, they will also help provide energy to tackle everyday activities.


Strength and endurance: The third part part features a series of exercises designed to improve the strength and tone of muscles, making everyday activities easier to do. These types of exercises can also improve your body composition so you have more lean muscle mass.


Cool down: The fourth and final part of the exercise programme features a series of stretches designed to improve your range of movement, flexibility and helps reduce the chances of muscles feeling sore after the exercises

Move More Northern Ireland

The Move More team in Northern Ireland have created a series of home based workouts to help people living with cancer stay active.

They’ll be posting new videos to their YouTube channel regularly that anyone can do from home.

TopMedTalk & Macmillan Cancer Support | Get active and feel good?

Macmillan have worked with TopMedTalk to develop a series of podcasts. These are to support people with cancer during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. In this episode we talk about the benefits of exercise for people living with cancer.

Home exercise advice from the NHS

The NHS website has advice and tools to help you make positive choices about your health and well-being. These include:

  • Home workout videos
    These three videos include a cardio workout, a strengthening workout and a video to help you cool down.
  • Beginners yoga 
    Yoga can help you keep active and can also be calming. The NHS website has a 45-minute home yoga video for beginners at any fitness level.

We Are Undefeatable

We Are Undefeatable is a movement supporting people with a range of long term health conditions, developed by 15 leading health and social care charities. Read their 'get moving around the house' advice.

Moving Medicine

Moving Medicine has an information leaflet that includes practical tips on physical activity for people living with cancer.


ThriveFit provide free exercise classes specifically designed for people with cancer or recovering from treatment. Participants can be at any stage of their cancer journey. More information about booking onto their online classes can be found here.

Preparing for treatment at home

It’s really important that you still look after your health and well-being before you start cancer treatment. This is called prehabilitation. It’s about making sure you’re as healthy as you can possibly be before starting your treatment.

The Medway Prehab

The Medway Prehab aims to get people to their optimal health before treatment, helping them cope with the challenges of their treatment as well as to recover faster. Here are there recommendations for home based exercise.


The Prehab4cancer programme helps people who have been recently diagnosed with cancer and are waiting to start their treatment.

Their home exercise guide has a whole range of different exercises to do at home as well as an exercise diary. 

They also have a dietary guide to help you eat well while preparing for treatment.

Eating well at home

Eating well and keeping to a healthy weight will help you keep up your strength, increase your energy levels and improve your sense of well-being.

We know it’s been difficult to get hold of certain foods recently. We have information about getting food while self-isolating

This diagram shows the proportion of each type of food you should try to eat for a healthy, balanced diet.

It might be useful to refer to it when you’re writing your shopping list. It could also be something you share with anyone who is helping you with your food shopping while you’re at home. 

Food group chart

Aim to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and starchy foods. The proportion of protein you eat should be smaller. The amount of dairy you have should be smaller still. You should aim to have only a small amount of oils and spreads.

We know it can be difficult to shop and to get hold of supplies right now. Suggestions for recipes to help us make the most of everyday ingredients and store-cupboard items are emerging. Search online or ask family and friends to share recipe ideas.

TopMedTalk & Macmillan Cancer Support | Healthy eating and cancer

In collaboration with TopMedTalk we have developed a podcast series to support people during their cancer journey during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. In this episode we talk about what a balanced diet looks like for someone living with cancer.

Your emotional and mental well-being

As well as your physical health, it’s important to take care of your emotional and mental well-being. We have advice to help you cope with self-isolating.

We know this is a difficult and uncertain time, so please ask for support if you need it. Speak to your friends and family over the phone or on social media. You can also talk to us:

TopMedTalk & Macmillan Cancer Support | Mental well-being

In collaboration with TopMedTalk we have developed a podcast series to support people during their cancer journey during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. In this episode we talk about ways to help control feelings and look after your mental health.

Talk to an expert now

If something is worrying you and you need to talk, we're here to listen. From questions about coronavirus, to cancer treatment, to financial advice, we're here for you.

To speak to our experts, you can:

Find out more about the Macmillan teams that are here to support you.

Macmillan Telephone Buddies

Going through cancer can be an isolating experience at any time, and especially when social distancing. Our free Telephone Buddy service is here for you. We'll match you with someone who understands what you're going through, and they'll give you a weekly call.

More information and registration

How we are supporting people with cancer

Coronavirus is having a huge impact on people living with cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support are doing the best we can to support people during this time. We have:

  • introduced new support services, delivered over the phone or online
  • set up our new Telephone Buddies service where you can sign up for someone to talk to
  • maintained our Information and Support section on the website with up to date information about all aspects of living with cancer and how to access support
  • set up a virtual appointment system with our No7 Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors who can give make-up and skincare advice to help with the side effects of cancer treatment. 
  • launched SafeFit. This is a free remote service that connects you with a cancer exercise specialist to help you stay fit and healthy.

How you can help

Cancer nurses need urgent support

We need to be there for people living with cancer. But we can't do it alone. Your support has never mattered more. Find out more about how we're supporting people during the coronavirus outbreak, and how you can help us be there.

Read more about how we are supporting people with cancer