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.

A physiotherapist or cancer exercise specialist

Your GP or cancer specialist can refer you to a physiotherapist or a qualified cancer exercise specialist if you need one. You may also be able to refer yourself to a physiotherapist. They can help you:

  • decide on an individual exercise programme that is safe and effective
  • become an independent exerciser
  • increase your physical fitness
  • improve your energy, strength, flexibility, co-ordination and balance
  • manage the side effects or after-effects of treatment
  • enjoy and increase your physical activity
  • avoid injuries.

You can ask them questions such as:

  • ‘I’ve never exercised before – how should I start?’
  • ‘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?’
  • ‘Which exercises can help me get up the stairs?’

If you have more specific needs, they may be able to arrange a rehabilitation programme for you.

General information

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

It’s best to talk to your cancer doctor, specialist nurse or GP before you start exercising. They can give you advice on whether it is safe for you to exercise and any precautions you need to take. Some GPs, cancer treatment centres and support groups have exercise referral schemes. These referral programmes support people to change their behaviours and get healthier and more active after illnesses such as cancer. There may be an exercise programme that is part of some research at your cancer treatment centre. Ask your cancer doctor or nurse for more information.

Exercise referral schemes

Many people find that exercising in a group keeps them more motivated. If you think this might help, or you feel you need close supervision from an expert, you may want to join an exercise referral scheme. They are mostly held at local community centres, healthy living centres, leisure centres and libraries. Ask your GP or cancer doctor about any in your area. Not all areas have an exercise referral scheme, or the schemes may be restricted to certain medical conditions.

Specially trained exercise professionals manage many of these schemes. But it’s a good idea to check whether they have been trained to work with people who have or have had cancer.

When they make your referral, your doctor will share some information about your health with the exercise professional. They will keep this confidential.

Your trainer will explain the benefits and risks of increasing your physical activity. You will be asked to give your consent. This means you agree to the exercise plan and understand the benefits and risks. They will advise you on whether it’s best to exercise in a group or on your own. Your trainer will match the activities to your individual needs and ability.

Some areas also have schemes in care homes, hospices and day centres. They often include activities such as chair-based exercises, walking, dancing, pilates, gentle exercise to music, circuits, tai chi and yoga.

An occupational therapist

Your GP or cancer doctor may refer you to an occupational therapist. They can advise you on how to pace yourself and manage tiredness.

They can also suggest changes to your home that will make it safer and help you be more independent. Doing simple things for yourself in the home is a way of increasing your physical activity. If things are easier at home, you will also have more time and energy to do activities such as walking or gardening.


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

Health walks

Walking is one of the most popular forms of activity and a great way to keep healthy. We work with health walk programmes all over the UK.

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.