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New survey reveals ‘worrying’ lack of exercise support among people with cancer

Just one in 20 people living with cancer in Yorkshire have taken part in a specialised exercise programme, according to a new survey by Yorkshire Cancer Research.

Mid Yorkshire Breast Cancer Support completing group pilates class

The independent charity commissioned the YouGov research to find out more about the knowledge, beliefs and experiences of people living in the region in relation to cancer and exercise.

Evidence shows that exercise before, during and after treatment can help improve the likelihood of survival and reduce the risk of cancer coming back. Exercise can also help people prepare for cancer treatment and make a quicker recovery, while relieving side effects from treatment.

However, in the survey of 500 people with cancer in Yorkshire, three quarters said their healthcare team did not discuss exercise with them following their diagnosis.

The charity is today (Tuesday, 24th October 2023) launching a new short film, ‘Exercise and Cancer’, featuring interviews with patients and experts, to highlight the first-hand impact of exercise for people with cancer and present the evidence behind its link to cancer survival.

Dr Kathryn Scott, Chief Executive at Yorkshire Cancer Research said: “Evidence showing the benefits of exercise for people with cancer has been in existence for many years, and there is now international consensus that exercise is safe and effective.

“However, our survey shows that in Yorkshire, people are not being given the opportunity to access the kind of specialised support they need. Not only that, but they are not being given any advice about exercise by healthcare professionals either. This is extremely worrying and indicates that there is a huge gap that needs to be filled."

“People are not aware of the vital role exercise can play in improving the success of treatment, the chance of a speedy recovery and the likelihood of survival. Patients used to be told to ‘rest up’ after a cancer diagnosis, but we now know this is not the right advice. It’s important we raise awareness of the benefits among people with cancer.”

Chief Executive at Yorkshire Cancer Research

Four in 10 people surveyed said they would not have taken part in a specialised exercise programme had they been offered it. The reasons for not wanting to take part were varied, including a limited awareness of benefits as well as complex individual barriers such as other priorities following a diagnosis, not feeling well enough or a lack of confidence.

Yorkshire Cancer Research is funding pioneering fitness, nutrition and wellbeing programmes across the region with an aim for everyone with cancer to have the chance to benefit from personalised support following a diagnosis.

The charity funds services in Sheffield, Dewsbury, Pontefract and Wakefield, and recently opened a dedicated centre for exercise in Harrogate. Services in other locations are currently being planned.

1 in 20 people

living with cancer in Yorkshire have taken part in a specialised exercise programme

The charity’s film is led by people with cancer and features national and international experts, including Kerry Courneya, Professor at the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, University of Alberta, Anna Campbell, Professor in Clinical Exercise Science at Edinburgh Napier University, and Amanda Daley, Professor of Behavioural Medicine at Loughborough University.

It also features Rob Copeland, Professor of Physical Activity and Health at Sheffield Hallam University, who leads the charity’s Active Together programme. The service, designed by Sheffield Hallam University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research and delivered in partnership with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, has now helped nearly 600 people since its launch in February 2022.

Group of ladies standing and smiling together, wearing Active Together T-shirts

By 2025, it is anticipated that more than 2,500 patients across Yorkshire will receive support through the expanded Active Together service. The charity recently received a £835,000 donation from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), an international grant-making foundation and supporter of innovative health initiatives, to support the expansion of the programme.

Dr Scott added: “It’s essential that we make exercise available to every patient right now. Cancer is not going away. Sadly, more and more people will be diagnosed with cancer in the future. We absolutely must find and make available the very best ways of treating it so that we can deal with cancer more effectively not only in Yorkshire but worldwide.”

Watch the film


Nikki Brady, PR Manager

Yorkshire Cancer Research

Tel: 07814 255159