What role does exercise play in your recovery?

The latest Macmillan research seems to indicate that exercise plays an even bigger part in recovery and staying healthy than previously thought. I know that we can't exercise when we are feeling really ill and in the midst of aggressive treatment but I would be interested to hear what type of exercise you enjoy, how often, what you think are the benefits .... any thoughts really, plus or minus. Thanks xx

22 Replies

  • Hi Wendy, I finished my treatment in may and signed up to do a half marathon next week! Crazy I know but training and going running has really helped me, I'm enjoying it and feel healthier than I've felt for years! I really think exercise helps, x

  • Thanks for that, Hayley!

    Well done for the marathon efforts! I did a half-marathon walk last year and raised £500 for Ovacome. It was great, really enjoyable. I'm sure you'll enjoy the experience when you get to it, all the very best of luck with the marathon and your continuing health

    Wendy xx

  • Exercise is supposed to be good, because it gets your body working. But I'd suggest that you don't overdo it. There is a major study starting in the US about how exercise and diet can affect outcomes in OC. Beyond that, I'd suggest your read Anti Cancer by Dr J Servan Schreiber, a doctor who himself has fought brain cancer over many years.

  • Thanks, Chris! I will look at the book. It may support the findings of the Macmillan research, I think. I think when we exercise, we feel better anyway and the extra bonus is that it takes us outside being a patient and distracts our thoughts!

    Wendy xx

  • Hi Wendy,

    Exercise is good on so many levels, totally unrelated to cancer. Our bodies are designed to work, and modern life is far more comfortable and sedentary than life ever was before. So, we need to move to get hearts pumping, and blood circulating. Gentle exercise even achieves this - walking or swimming seem to use the greatest percentage of muscles at once. As you exercise you are moving through the world so stimulating your thought processes and changing your outlook, also you are stimulating the release of endorphins. They are the body's natural pain killers and euphoria promoters. They are why we feel better after exercise, and why exercise is a natural anti-depressant (and much better for you than prescribed ones). They are supposedly not addictive, although over my years in the treatment field I've seen literally hundreds of people switch from drug addictions to compulsive exercising which I think, is significant.

    So, in short, regular exercise provides good things for mind, body and spirit . Formal sport also involves other people so also brings social benefits on top. Also, it is a good way to assuage the guilt we tend to oppress ourselves with on so many levels about just about everything!!

    Best wishes,


  • Thanks, Isadora!

    I think you are completely right in all your thoughts on exercise. It's interesting to read about your findings with addiction too.

    I find my walking and especially tai chi classes, take me right out of any worries, they are so gentle physically and so demanding mentally, remembering the sequence of movements, that I zone out completely!

    Wendy xx

  • Hi,

    I had surgery on 1st June this year (laparotomy) and now just had my 4th chemo. I am doing one at least 45 minute walk a day, with a smaller couple of 15 minute walks. I used to run 3 miles a day and do dumbbells. When I have had my scan at the end of the chemo and I know how things are going, I will look to start running again next Spring. I do exercise for all the reasons Isadora has cited. I particularly find it lifts my spirits getting outdoors, sunshine, rain, other people and nature. When I get down my husband whisks me off for a walk, and I have never yet come back without being re-newed and more upbeat!

    Love Lizzie


  • Thanks, Lizzie!

    I do so agree about being outside lifting the spirits! You have done really well to stick to doing exercise through all the treatment, I'm sure it must be an effort sometimes when you're going through chemo, but a worthwhile effort, it seems. Hope things go well and you're soon back to the running

    Wendy xx

  • Hi Wendy

    I badly need to exercise to lose some weight as I had and still have neuropathy in my feet which put a stop to my previous active life, when I was forever dashing about at work and home so didn't need to bother with a specific exercise routine.

    I'll shortly be taking possession of a Wii Fit - daughter-in-law bought it, used it about twice since when it's been languishing in its box, so I am having it on long loan. I gather you can do all sorts of exercises with it so I'm hoping it will help to boost my metabolism and generally tone things up.

    I'd like to hear from anyone else who has used one. I know it's not as healthy as a lovely bracing walk and I dont like swimming, but it'll be better than nothing!


  • Hi Patsy!

    Thanks for answering. Good for you, trying to find a way of exercising that suits you. I never liked team games and competitiveness, so I do walking, gym visits, tai chi and (when I can) skiing. All a bit sedate but it suits me! I think that is the key ..find something that suits us. Well done for finding something that suits you, I'd love to try a Wii-fit, but haven't got round to that one. The yoga programme is supposed to be good, for gentle exercise, and the balance one. Good luck with finding something that suits you

    Wendy xx

  • Hi all. At my first meeting with the registrar & oncologist they both emphasised exercise is important when undergoing chemo treatment, and asked me to try not to take to my bed on bad days, although rest is also important. So I make a point of a brisk walk every day of my more energetic phases and a shorter walk around the block when I feel low; to the point of overdoing it sometimes: I feel I want to make full use of my energy rich days, which are fewer further into the treatment, in fact this depressed me a lot, that feeling of debilitation and shuggliness after years of having so much energy and rushing around. I mentioned this to my oncologist and she said there is evidence that patients undergoing bone marrow transplants really benefit from brisk pavement walking as the hard pounding encourages the bone marrow to reproduce the blood cells needed. Not what I have, but I must tell my friend who has lymphoma and is about to undergo a bone marrow transplant, as he doesn't do enough exercise by his own admission. She also said I am now fit (post major surgery) to go back to swimming, if I can face it. May be gentler on my body, if not my lungs! But my weight is going up, so I'd like to make an effort.

  • Thanks Moominkat for your answer. I'm glad you're able to address the exercise issue again. Well done for keeping going even when you didn't feel like it. That takes real bravery! I put on well over a stone and a half over my recovery, but swimming helped a lot afterwards, to build up my strength. Trouble is, I swum before breakfast and then went home for bacon butties :-(

    I'm now one third of the way back to my pre-op weight, but it's taken me nine years. Not a good advert really!

    Good luck with your recovery

    Wendy xx

  • Hi Wendydee. In between treatments i get back to walking as quickly as possible and my marker is how soom I can do the 4 mile round trip to town and back. I do find it very difficult to make myself walk on the bad days after chemo. After my chemo last year I did start to build up my walking again but hadn't got back to my normal distances before I started chemo again this year. Both times I have been told not to use public swimming pools or the gym, and this year i was advised not to walk too far because of the chemo affect on my feet. However, I have continued to aim for the 4 miles round trip in between treatments and as I have just finished the cycle I am aiming to build up to a 12 mile walk in Dec. Walking has always been my favorite exercise and I have missed it this year. I have also join some fitness classes and pilates. This all helps me to feel more like my old self which is great. Don't know what it is doing to the OC.


  • I'm sure it's doing you good, Angela! Thanks for your reply. You are doing marvellously well. I'm not sure I could cope with chemo and exercise as well. The research that Macmillan has done is being reviewed by a group I'm on and the results are quite remarkable, I don't have any facts and figures yet, but an oncologist in the research project apparently said "if this was anew kind of chemo, everyone would be clamouring for it!" I think it's safe to say, that where you feel you can exercise, it can only increase your chances of recovery. I'll let you know more when I know more!

    In the meantime, keep on enjoying whatever you can do. I'm sure it all makes us feel more like normal life is being resumed as soon as possible!

    Good luck,

    Wendy xx

  • I'm in the middle of my chemo. So no swimming. Tiredness is my biggest issue. I try and rest ( not very good at that, always been active) daily, I go out for a walk with my husband and beautiful dog. We may not go far but I enjoy it. Is that what IS the point? Do what makes you happy and what you enjoy.I think it is important to recognize when you have had enough( you have to walk back again!). I'm hearing the pot calling the kettle black here!!!x

  • Hi Wendy, I have always loved hill walking, so 7 weeks after my op that's where I headed with my husband, I only did a short walk but I felt so good after it that I have kept it up, I havent reached the top yet but someday I will.

    On bad chemo days I don't do any exercise I just sit and watch tv all day.


  • Hi Mar! Thanks for your reply. You're doing wonders! I won't repeat what I've just written to Soapsuds, but it's much the same, you have to take it easy on bad days. Much respect to you for trying to get to the top of the hill, I live in flat part of the country, no hills, except on the gym treadmill. I'm from Yorkshire originally and have lived in Wales, so I really miss the hills. Essex is so flat! I hope the chemo is going well and you haven't got many more sessions to go.

  • I won't be able to reply for the next two weeks, but keep the posts coming, it's so useful to hear all your determination and the way exercise is helping. You are a truly inspirational lot of ladies. I'm off on my hols until 23rd Sept, will be doing some hill-walking, swimming and exercising the elbow, lifting a glass or two of ouzo! Yammas!

    Love Wendy xx

  • I used to run regularly before my diagnosis so exercise did not prevent me from getting cancer.

    On good days I try and get out of the flat as I tend to go stir crazy. I've bought a bus season ticket so I can get out and about and explore different places. I tried cycling a couple of weeks ago but it was too much for me I became fatigued really quickly. I've also been swimming and that was fine as lone as I took regular rests.

    Soon it will be 12 weeks post op and I'm hoping to introduce some gentle walk/run again but I will have to listen to my body and not overdo it.

  • good for you, for trying ...you are still in the early days post op wise. I found swimming was a good gentle way to get back to a bit of fitness after my op. You are right though, you mustn't push your body too much too soon. I don't know whether the research says exercise helps to stop you getting OC. It seems though, that exercise helps us to keep healthy after a diagnosis and it seems to lift the spirits and help to get some sense of control back, I think. Take care with the running. 12 weeks is still early after such a big op. Thanks for your reply xx

  • Hi Wendy

    I love walking and it has helped me feel human again after my two lots of surgery last year. We also have a little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and walking with her is paradise for me.

    I have just completed a course to become a accredited walk leader , and we were told that, for maximum benefit : do a 5 minute warm up , then walk for 20 minutes plus as if you are late for an appointment, then do a 5 minute cool down. Obviously this is not appropriate or even safe in the early weeks and months post-op. I also did a CBT course as I still suffer from low mood associated with abdominal pain , and exercise such as walking is highly recommended as a treat and as a "distraction technique" if you are particularly upset about something.

    Swimming is also wonderful to strengthen the abdominal muscles, and while in the gym I also try and have a steam or sauna and do relaxation exercises there.

    As a note of caution though , I believe that I over-did things on a weekend away 12 weeks after my first surgery. My hubby and I walked miles and miles, and soon afterwards my post-op pain dramatically worsened. The doctors thought that my cancer had come back , even though the scans were OK . I ended up having a second laparatomy which was truly horrible.

    Your body needs to heal too and it is easy to over-do things.

    Like you I am now about half a stone heavier than I was with a huge tumour, due to too many cakes and treats when friends came around. Hopefully will get rid of some in the coming months.

    Charlie xxx

  • Thanks, Charlie! I totally agree it does your mood good to get out in the open air and do a bit of walking. It breaks the cycle of feeling out of control and down in the dumps doesn't it? Doing the training to be a walk leader is a great idea. I'll follow your hints, especially after putting five pounds on during my hols over the last fortnight! I need to get some weight off before next weekend when I've got a wedding to go to (I doubt I'll get into the outfit in my current state!)

    I also agree about not doing too much too soon. It's easy to talk yourself into trying to get back to "normal" too soon after an op. It's such big physical and mental shock to your whole system.

    thanks for your ideas xx

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