Benefits of being active

There are benefits of being active at every stage of cancer or treatment. But there can be extra or specific benefits, depending on which stage you are at. For all stages of treatment, it is important to make sure the physical activity you are planning is safe to do in your situation.

Most types of light physical activity, such as walking, are safe.

Being active has many benefits and can help to:

  • reduce tiredness and some treatment side effects
  • reduce anxiety and depression
  • improve your mood and quality of life
  • strengthen your muscles, joints and bones
  • look after your heart and reduce the risk of other health problems.

Being active at recommended levels and keeping to a healthy weight may reduce the risk of certain cancers coming back.

Being physically active may reduce your risk of some of the late effects of cancer treatment. These are side effects that may develop months or years after treatment ends. Not everyone will get late effects. Physical activity can also help you manage some late effects.

Being active before treatment

If you know you are going to have treatment, your doctor might encourage you to start some physical activity beforehand. This is to help improve your general fitness level. It can also help with your recovery after treatment.

Being active before treatment starts may mean you have fewer side effects, or that they are less severe. It can also help you feel more in control and mentally prepared for treatment. It may help you recover more quickly.

Some people have to start treatment straight away, so there is no time to become more active before treatment. If this happens, you can talk to your cancer doctor or specialist nurse about plans to get active during or after treatment. They may refer you to a physiotherapist for advice.


Being active during treatment

Being physically active during treatment is generally safe. But there may be activities you need to avoid or be careful with. There may be some weeks when you have to do less, such as immediately after chemotherapy. It is important not to suddenly start intense exercise that you are not used to.

Regular activity will reduce the risk of blood clots (thrombosis). These are more common after cancer, especially if you:

Some physical activity during treatment will help you maintain your fitness, strength and bone health. It is best to try to increase the amount of activity you do in the long term. Try not to worry about any short-term setbacks.

If you are not sure about being active during treatment, talk to your specialist nurse, physiotherapist or GP. Some hospitals and community services have cancer exercise specialists or classes that you can be referred to. Our Move More guide has lots of tips to help you get started.

What you can manage will depend on your level of fitness and the treatment you are having. If you feel unfit and treatment is making you feel very tired, then you could start gently by trying to:

  • reduce the amount of time you spend sitting or lying down
  • do some light housework or gardening
  • go for a walk.

Remember to take things slowly. Try not to do too much, even on a good day.

If you already exercised before treatment, you may find you need to do it at a slower pace or lower intensity during treatment. You can slowly increase it again after treatment ends.

Studies have shown that exercising during chemotherapy helps people stay active. It also helps them feel better about their quality of life.

I didn’t run during my treatment, as I didn’t feel I should. I tried it once and got light-headed, so I walked instead. It got fresh air in my lungs and made me feel better.

Sharon

An still from the Get Active Feel Good DVD. It shows a trainer and two people in Macmillan t-shirts exercising.

Get Active Feel Good DVD

Watch our playlist to hear personal stories about how physical activity can benefit you before and after treatment.

About our cancer information videos

Get Active Feel Good DVD

Watch our playlist to hear personal stories about how physical activity can benefit you before and after treatment.

About our cancer information videos


Being active after treatment

Being physically active after treatment is a positive step in your recovery. It may help reduce the risk of certain cancers coming back. It may also help you manage and reduce the risk of:

The feel-good factor I got after exercise was fantastic. The focus of exercise during and after treatment has gone a long way to helping me get to where I am now, both physically and mentally.

Michaela


Physical activity and late effects

Late effects are side effects that may develop months or years after treatment ends. Not everyone will get late effects, but being physically active may reduce your risk. It can also help you manage late effects.

Heart health

Some treatments may slightly increase the risk of heart problems in the future. These include radiotherapy that is given close to the heart and certain chemotherapy or targeted therapy drugs.

Aerobic activities can help protect your heart and reduce the risk of late effects developing. The type of aerobic exercise you can do will depend on your ability. We have some examples of aerobic activity.

Bone health

Hormonal therapies for breast cancer and prostate cancer can increase the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis). This can also happen if you have an early menopause due to cancer treatments.

Activities where you are supporting your own body weight will help keep bones strong. These are sometime called weight-bearing exercises. They include walking, dancing and resistance training such as lunges and squats.

If you have osteoporosis, get advice on exercise from your doctor, nurse, physiotherapist or exercise specialist. We have more information about being safe if you have bone problems and about looking after your bones.

Anxiety and low mood

Many people feel overwhelmed when they are told they have cancer. During and after treatment, you may have many different emotions. These include uncertainty, anxiety and depression.

Research has shown that being physically active during and after treatment can help improve your mood and confidence. Doing something positive for yourself can help you feel more in control.

We have more information about your emotions and cancer treatment.

Keeping to a healthy weight

Some people may gain weight because of cancer and its treatment. If treatment makes you feel tired, you may be less active than usual. Hormonal therapies and steroids can also cause weight gain.

Being active and eating healthily can help you manage your weight. Keeping to a healthy weight can help reduce the risk of:

  • joint problems
  • back problems
  • developing a new (primary) cancer – excess body fat has been linked to some bowel, breast and womb cancers.

Some people lose a lot of weight after cancer and its treatment. The amount of muscle you have may be reduced. Physical activity can help you gain weight by building muscles.

We have more information about keeping to a healthy weight.

Other health problems

After cancer treatment, some people are more at risk of developing other health problems. Being physically active can help you manage or reduce your risk of:

  • high blood pressure
  • stroke
  • high cholesterol
  • type 2 diabetes
  • kidney disease

Reducing the risk of cancer coming back

There is some evidence that being physically active at the recommended levels can reduce the risk of some cancers coming back. These include breast and bowel cancer.

Research into physical activity is ongoing. More evidence is needed before we will know how much and what specific exercise is needed to reduce the risk of cancers coming back

Following diagnosis, I became really depressed. Exercise was part of the cure – it really worked and still does.

Aleksander

Physical activity after breast cancer treatment

Joy explains how she followed exercises that were tailored to her cancer type and gradually became more active after breast cancer treatment to help with her recovery.

About our cancer information videos

Physical activity after breast cancer treatment

Joy explains how she followed exercises that were tailored to her cancer type and gradually became more active after breast cancer treatment to help with her recovery.

About our cancer information videos

Back to Keeping active

Health walks

Walking is one of the most popular forms of activity and a great way to keep active. Health walk programmes are available across the UK.

Tips for getting started

It is important to take care of yourself when you start to be more active. Your healthcare team can give you advice.

Activities near you

There are lots of organisations and websites that can help you find out what activities are available near you.

Tools to help you move more

Taking part in physical activity during and after cancer treatment can play a huge part in enabling you to take back control. We have a range of tools to help you be more active.

Apps to help you

There are a number of digital applications that can help you on your journey to becoming more active.