Inspiring Stroies

The Power of Movement

”Every time you move, you’re giving your body and mind a boost.” A simple sentence to kick off a piece about movement and exercise, but a really important one. Movement is so crucial for physical and mental wellbeing, but knowing where to start, what to do and feeling safe doing it, especially after a cancer diagnosis, can feel rather more daunting and complicated.

For people affected by cancer, there are so many benefits to moving more. Evidence shows that exercise can reduce some side effects of treatment, it can help to combat cancer related fatigue, anxiety and depression. It can also reduce the risk of recurrence for some cancers. Plus it improves quality of life and physical functioning.

Exercising while on treatment can give you something positive to focus on, something in the diary that isn’t a hospital appointment. It can give you a sense of ‘normality,’ and it’s something you can control which can be hugely empowering. While the evidence is out there for why you should exercise, there’s not so much out there about where to begin. Even a Google search of ‘beginner’s exercise’ can leave you feeling more confused, because they don’t really seem all that suitable for beginners. But I’ll let you into a secret, that’s because the vast majority aren’t.

In fact, I’d say many so-called beginner workouts on the internet can actually do more harm than good in terms of leaving you feeling demoralised, unfit, sore, out of breath and useless. But let me tell you, you’re not useless. It’s more a question of finding something suitable for the level that you’re currently at and then building from there.Before starting any exercise, have a chat with your Doctor.

Everyone’s different and it’s hard to give blanket advice, but there are a few questions you might like to ask specific to your situation like, are there any things I should/shouldn’t do? Can I swim? What can I do with a picc/central line in place? Is it okay for my immune system if I’m in a group/gym environment with others? Can I do high impact exercises (like running, or tennis)? Are there any exercise referral groups I might be able to go along to? Are there any times I shouldn’t do x’ or ‘y’ while on treatment? What precautions should I take with Lymphoedema? Once you’ve got the thumbs up from your Doctor that it’s safe for you to exercise, then let’s look a little more closely at what that might look like. In an ideal world, you’d do a mixture of cardio and some strength and perhaps something to help with your balance.

There are official guidelines out there in terms of how much you should do if you’re under 65 and if you’re over 65, but I think even these can seem very daunting if you’ve never really done much before, for whatever reason. The most important thing is to start moving more and then take it from there.For people affected by cancer, there are so many benefits to moving more. Evidence shows that exercise can reduce some side effects of treatment, it can help to combat cancer related fatigue, anxiety and depression. It can also reduce the risk of recurrence for some cancers.

Plus it improves quality of life and physical functioning. Exercising while on treatment can give you something positive to focus on, something in the diary that isn’t a hospital appointment. It can give you a sense of ‘normality,’ and it’s something you can control which can be hugely empowering. While the evidence is out there for why you should exercise, there’s not so much out there about where to begin. Even a Google search of ‘beginner’s exercise’ can leave you feeling more confused, because they don’t really seem all that suitable for beginners.

But I’ll let you into a secret, that’s because the vast majority aren’t. In fact, I’d say many so-called beginner workouts on the internet can actually do more harm than good in terms of leaving you feeling demoralised, unfit, sore, out of breath and useless. But let me tell you, you’re not useless. It’s more a question of finding something suitable for the level that you’re currently at and then building from there.Before starting any exercise, have a chat with your Doctor. Everyone’s different and it’s hard to give blanket advice, but there are a few questions you might like to ask specific to your situation like, are there any things I should/shouldn’t do? Can I swim? What can I do with a picc/central line in place? Is it okay for my immune system if I’m in a group/gym environment with others? Can I do high impact exercises (like running, or tennis)? Are there any exercise referral groups I might be able to go along to? Are there any times I shouldn’t do x’ or ‘y’ while on treatment? What precautions should I take with Lymphoedema? Once you’ve got the thumbs up from your Doctor that it’s safe for you to exercise, then let’s look a little more closely at what that might look like. In an ideal world, you’d do a mixture of cardio and some strength and perhaps something to help with your balance. There are official guidelines out there in terms of how much you should do if you’re under 65 and if you’re over 65, but I think even these can seem very daunting if you’ve never really done much before, for whatever reason. The most important thing is to start moving more and then take it from there.So let’s start with cardio, this is all about getting your heart and lungs working. If it’s an option for you, I would highly recommend walking. Start off with 5 minutes three times a week and build up gradually by adding a few minutes on each week. If you enjoy being outside and walking, but balance is a bit of an issue, invest in some lightweight walking poles. They can be so useful for taking the pressure off your joints and once you get into it, giving your upper body a bit of a workout too. Our 5K Your Way groups are really welcoming, no matter how much or little you do.

You don’t have to do the whole 5K, that’s not what it’s about. You can go along, do what you can do and be surrounded by a like-minded, supportive community. If walking isn’t an option for you, what about getting an old bike and a turbo trainer so you can ride indoors, for a gentle low-impact workout at home? Or if you want to get out the house, then you could consider the bike, recumbent bike, hand bike, or rowing machine at the gym. Again, start with 5 minutes and then go from there. And if you need to break that 5 minutes down into 30second chunks, on 90 seconds rest, do it. It all counts.If you’re restricted in your lower body movements, perhaps you might consider a seated cardio workout. You might be surprised at how quickly you can start to feel the benefits of chair based exercises!

The MOVE Against Cancer move your way sessions have standing and seated options, so they can be a great place to start. They’re much longer than five minutes, but you don’t have to do it all in one go. Break it up, or scroll through and find the bits that you can do and that work for you. While aerobic exercise plays a key role in boosting mental and physical wellbeing, strength or resistance training is also vital, especially as we get older. Resistance training can help to maintain muscle mass and increase bone density. If you’ve had an extended stay in hospital and spent a lot of time sitting or lying down, you’ll know how scary and quick muscle wastage can be. So what can you do about it?

An activity like yoga or pilates can be hugely beneficial for all over strength, flexibility and mental wellbeing too. There’s a fantastic yoga 3 part series over on the MOVE Against Cancer youtube channel, specifically for people affected by cancer.If that’s not up your street, then grab some tins of beans and start moving them around with your arms! When you’re watching TV, get up and down out of your chair a few times to work your leg muscles.

Head over to the wall and do some press ups against the wall. You could also invest in some light resistance bands and do some functional exercises with them, like chest openers, chest press, pull downs, leg presses and leg extensions. These are all simple movements that don’t take long and if you break them up throughout the day into little exercise snacks, then you barely even notice that you’re doing them.

With all of this, it’s about finding something that works for you and something that you enjoy, otherwise you won’t stick at it. Consistency over time is what will make the difference, so make things achievable by starting small and building up gradually. And don’t forget that every time you’re doing something other than sitting, you’re on the way to being healthier, both mentally and physically.