Tips to get you started

If you’re becoming more active after cancer treatment, you’ll need to consider how much activity is appropriate for you. This will depend on different things, for example any side effects or symptoms you may have and your level of fitness before treatment.

It is important to set yourself realistic goals and to listen to your body. You should start with gentle and low intensity activities. You’ll be able to build up progressively as you become stronger and fitter.

There are a number of tips that can help you to get started. They’ll also help you stay motivated:

  • Join an activity group or association.
  • Walk or cycle to the shops.
  • Keep a record of how active you’ve been.
  • Set goals you can achieve.
  • Take up activities you enjoy. Make sure they are fun.
  • Tell your friends about it, they may want to join you.

How much activity is right for you?

What and how much activity you do will depend on:

  • How fit you were before you were diagnosed – if you were active before, you may be able to continue with the same activities when you feel up to it.
  • The type of cancer and treatments you had or are still having. There may be some activities you’ll need to be careful with.
  • Treatment side effects and any symptoms you have.
  • Your age and any other long-term conditions you may have, such as heart problems.
  • If you have bone loss as a result of the cancer or its treatment.

You will be the best judge of how much and the types of physical activity you’re able and prepared to do. Gradually build up the amount you do by setting realistic goals that work for you. Over time you’ll be able to increase the amount you do.

As a general rule, and if you are able, aim to build up to 2.5–3 hours of moderate to vigorous exercise a week. Build up gradually after treatment. During treatment your energy levels will vary from day to day and the main aim should be to spend less time sitting or lying down. If you feel very tired the day after activity, you may be trying to do too much too soon.

Getting started with physical activity

When you’re ready to become more active, we have a guide called Getting started. It’s in our Move more pack that you can read along with this information. We also have a physical activity DVD which demonstrates home based exercise sessions with aerobic, strength and flexibility exercises at a variety of levels of intensity.

Start by doing something you enjoy and that fits in with your life. This could be a brisk walk with friends, playing with your children or grandchildren in the park, gardening, or walking to the shops.

Here are some more tips to help you stick to staying active:

  • Join a walking group.
  • Walk or cycle to the shops, to see friends or to work.
  • Try swimming, cycling, dancing or gardening.
  • Play a sport such as badminton, table tennis or bowls.
  • Try stretching exercises, such as yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates.
  • Ask your GP to refer you to a structured exercise referral programme or to a physiotherapist.

Becoming active for the first time or returning to activity during or after cancer isn’t necessarily going to be easy. Having clear goals, staying motivated and having support can all be really helpful. Our Getting started booklet can help you achieve this.

Here are some things other people have found helpful:

  • Remind yourself of the benefits and the reasons why you’re doing it.
  • Set goals you can achieve at your own pace. Whether it’s getting up off the sofa regularly, going for a walk or taking part in a class, make sure it’s the right goal for you.
  • Gradually build up the amount you do and if you have a setback just go back to an easier stage in your plan.
  • Keep a record of how active you’ve been and how you feel so you can see your progress – there’s an activity diary in our Move more pack that you can use.
  • Share your plans with other people who are supportive.
  • Try being active with other people such as family or friends, or joining a group or a club.
  • Make sure the activities are fun and enjoyable – some people find varying the activities they do really helps.
  • Don’t become disheartened if you don’t achieve a planned goal – think about why you weren’t able to achieve it and plan a new one. Sometimes it can take longer to develop fitness after treatment so you may need to revise timescales.

‘I have to plan exercise into my week, otherwise it won’t happen.’


Back to Keeping active

Who can help you get active

Talk to your physiotherapist or your doctor before you start doing physical activity. They’ll point you to appropriate exercise programmes.

Activities near you

Several organisations and websites can help you find out what activities are available near you.