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Talking to patients

A growing body of evidence

In direct contrast to the old adage “rest up”, there is a growing body of international research that physical activity before, during and after cancer treatment can reduce side effects and complications, reduce hospital stay, support recovery, improve the likelihood of survival and reduce the risk of cancer coming back.

However, there still remains some confusion amongst the general public about whether it is safe to exercise and the value physical activity can have. It is crucial that patients understand the benefits of staying physically active and that everyone involved in their care is telling them the same things about exercise, nutrition and wellbeing.

Key messages

Exercising after a cancer diagnosis is safe

There is a lot of evidence showing it is safe to exercise after a cancer diagnosis and there are many benefits, including reduced likelihood of complications and access to previously unsuitable treatments.

Any movement is good

Encourage patients to think about what they are doing already and how they might increase this.

Physical activity includes more than just exercise

For example gardening and housework also count. Anything where they feel warmer and are a little out of breath but can still hold a broken conversation.

Encourage patients to pace themselves

Experiencing fatigue or side effects from treatment is normal. Talk to patients about pushing themselves a little but not over-exerting themselves.

Eat a balanced diet

This should include all the food groups. Eat a portion of protein with each meal, especially following surgery when protein requirements are higher.

If patients are struggling with appetite or weight loss encourage them to eat little and often

Refer to a dietitian if this has already been adopted with no success.

A patient exercising with a resistance band supported by a fitness instructor

Exercise can improve recovery from treatment, increase survival and help reduce the risk of cancer coming back. Read more about the benefits of exercise before, during and after cancer treatment.

Find out more