If possible, try to do a mix of activities that improve your aerobic fitness, balance, strength and flexibility. Becoming active for the first time or returning to activity during or after cancer is not always easy. If you are going through treatment, you may find it useful to plan your activity around this. Or if you usually feel very tired (fatigued) at a certain time of day, avoid planning activity for this time.
Think about what you are most interested in doing and what you would enjoy the most. You could make a list of the different activities you and your family and friends could try. There is not a single activity that is best for everyone. The important thing is to choose something that fits in with your life.
If you have not been active for a long time, you should increase your activity slowly. Try to do a little more activity each week.
This is how it feels to be active at different intensities (how much energy you use):
- Light intensity – You are breathing and talking easily and it doesn’t feel like there is 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 you can’t carry on a conversation. Your heartbeat feels fast.
When you are comfortable doing an activity for longer, you can think about increasing the intensity from light to moderate, and then to vigorous. For example, you could walk the same distance but in a shorter time and at a faster pace.
Aerobic exercise works your heart and lungs. It uses large muscle groups, such as the ones in the legs. It does this repetitively for a period of time. It makes you breathe harder and raises your heart rate, so your heart works harder to pump blood through the body. It is particularly good for your heart and cardiovascular system. The cardiovascular system includes the heart and the blood vessels that carry blood around the body.
These are common aerobic exercises:
- Daily activities – Taking the stairs, doing housework such as vacuuming or hanging out washing, gardening, walking the dog and playing games with children are all considered moderate-intensity activities.
- Walking briskly – This is one of the simplest and most effective aerobic exercises. It is also a weight-bearing exercise, because your feet and legs support your body’s weight. This means it is good for strengthening the bones (the spine, pelvis and leg bones). Walking can be a moderate-intensity activity. All you need are comfortable walking shoes.
- Gardening – This is a way of enjoying some physical activity outdoors. Heavier gardening such as digging or pushing a lawn mower can count as moderate activity. Spending time in the garden might also help with stress or anxiety. If you do not have access to a garden, there are schemes across the UK where you can garden, grow fruit and vegetables or take part in nature conservation. Green Gyms is one of these schemes. Visit your local authority’s website to see which schemes might be available near you.
- Running and jogging – These can be considered as vigorous activity. They are great for your heart and lungs and they are weight-bearing exercises. These activities are high impact and may put stress on your spine and joints. If you have bone or joint problems, you may want to choose something less weight-bearing. This could include jogging on a trampoline, cycling or swimming.
- Cycling and swimming – These can be considered as moderate or vigorous activity. They are good for your heart and lungs. They strengthen your muscles but put very little strain on your joints, because they are weight-supported exercises. They can be good activities if you have bone or joint pain. Swimming is particularly beneficial if you have lymphoedema. Swimming is not recommended if you have irritated skin due to radiotherapy. It is also not recommended if you are having chemotherapy and you have a PICC line or central line.
- Group exercise and other sports – There are other aerobic exercise options you could do with a friend or a group. These include aerobics classes, dancing, golf, tennis, badminton and bowling.