Exercise and cancer: Making sense of the research

Research has shown that exercise can not only help to prevent cancer, it can also help you have a better quality of life while you’re in cancer treatment, and can decrease your chances of getting cancer again.

But if you’re the one going through cancer treatment, exercising might well be the last thing on your mind. So to help you make sense of the research, we’ve gathered the facts on exercising and cancer, as well as some handy exercise ideas to help you be a little bit more active, even when you’re feeling unwell.

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Incorporating exercise into your routine when you have cancer

The Aidapt Deluxe Motorised Pedal Exerciser can help you maintain a light but consistent exercise routine from the comfort of your sofa

cancer exercise

If you’re having treatment or have recently finished, you should start to do a little exercise if you feel up to it.

Generally, doctors advise at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, of moderate paced activity such as walking. This level of activity is helpful for even during treatment. But everyone’s different and exercise needs to be tailored to you, taking into account your overall fitness, diagnosis, and other factors that could affect safety.

There are very good reasons for exercising. It can improve your quality of life and help you feel better. Some studies show that it can help to speed up recovery after cancer treatment. Regular exercise can also reduce stress and give you more energy.


If you’ve never done much exercise, you’ll have to build up gradually. If you do too much one day, you might feel very tired and sore the next day. Don’t feel that you always have to do more than yesterday. Some days you’ll have more energy than others.

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Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors and Patients: An Interview with Dr. Yoga


Yoga has become increasingly popular in the cancer community. The gentle exercise and calming environment can help to promote relaxation and well-being – especially for people who are going through the stresses and emotional ups and downs of a cancer diagnosis.

We spoke with Dr. Jimmy Kwok  also known as ‘Dr. Yoga’ about the benefits of yoga for breast cancer patients and his exciting new book, Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors and Patients.

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Nic Naish: Take Small Steps to Achieve Your Dream

Take small steps to achieve your dream

On Monday I open the doors, my very own doors, to my health and fitness clients! I’m feeling quietly excited, quite exhausted but very much supported.

Who knew that a diagnosis of breast cancer could change my life around in such a remarkable way? I feel that I’m nearing my goal, but that suggests that I had a definitive idea of where I was heading. I knew what I didn’t want…and that was a job that exhausted me but left me unfulfilled, and more often than not, frustrated. My health had taken a downturn due to the job and the incessant feeling of self-doubt wore me out.

During my year of cancer treatment, I had time to reflect…not that much time as I started many projects, all of which I saw to fruition. (Apart from painting again and organising an exhibition in my local library!) I made my nutrition and exercise a top priority. They were very much part of my cancer ‘treatment’.

My positive experience regarding my cancer treatment made me want to spread the word and also give something back. I volunteered with a local charity, Albion in the Community (the charitable branch of Brighton & Hove FC), on a cancer awareness project and my journey started. To physically work in my community talking about the benefits of early detection felt so right. The scientific side of my brain wanted answers though.. to so many questions, and I loved the work that Breast Cancer Campaign were funding. (Now known as Breast Cancer Now!)

This led me to run marathons to raise money. I loved becoming fit again and didn’t want to stop. I wanted to tell everyone  “Cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence” so I became even more involved with both fitness and the volunteering. When I had qualified as a fitness instructor, I realised that the qualification had glossed over nutrition. I knew it had a big part to play in our health and wellbeing, so I enrolled on a nutritional therapy course at uni. The biochemistry side of the studies pushed my buttons and simply made me want to understand more.

That’s when I started to realise that as a personal trainer I wanted to work holistically, with people living with and beyond cancer. I still have to juggle my work as an artist in residence at a large primary school, teach workouts on the beach and squeeze in being a mum and a wife, but I am so close now.

Next time I write a blog, I will have moved into my new studio….fingers crossed!

The journey has taken six truly amazing years. I didn’t know then what the result was going to look like..and that didn’t matter. There have been hiccups, and I’ve made a few mistakes, but the important thing is that every night when I went to bed, however, I was feeling…I knew that when I woke up, it was a new day, a fresh start. And for that, I am eternally thankful.

Most of the steps have been forward, some sideways, a very small number backward…but I have always had a burning desire to get ‘there’.

So I guess that’s my message for this week. Welcome each new day and take tiny steps towards something you really believe in. The tiny steps do add up!


Nic x


Nic Naish: Exercise After Breast Cancer

Nic Naish's Weekly Exercise and Nutrition Tips - 29th June Comment

Hi everyone,

Not surprisingly, a question that I get asked frequently is whether it is safe to exercise after breast cancer, usually with regard to swelling. As always, there is no stock answer as no two cancer patients are identical and people’s perception of strenuous or gentle exercise varies hugely. All I can say is that light exercise has so many benefits.

The most common fear is that exercise, especially arm exercises may cause lymphoedema.

So, what is lymphoedema?

Well, it’s a buildup of lymph fluid in the fatty tissues just under you skin. Our bodies have a network of lymph nodes and lymph vessels that collect and transport lymph fluid around the body. This watery fluid contains proteins, salts and water, as well as white blood cells, which help fight infections. Lymph nodes are small collections of tissue that work as filters for harmful substances.

During surgery for breast cancer, the doctor might take out lymph nodes from under the arm (axillary nodes) to see if the cancer has spread. When lymph nodes are removed, lymph vessels that carry fluid from the arm to the rest of the body are also removed because they go through and are wrapped around the nodes. It is therefore harder for fluid in the chest, breast and arm to flow out of these areas, causing a fluid build-up, or lymphoedema.

So the women that contact me are usually post treatment, feeling out of shape, maybe carrying extra unwanted weight and often say “I can’t do much arm or shoulder stuff as I have lymphoedema”.

The truth is that exercise is pretty crucial after cancer treatment. I don’t mean marathon running or kick-boxing! (well, not initially…) We know that overweight women are at higher risk for lymphoedema so exercising, in general, to retain a healthy weight is very advisable.

It’s important to use your affected arm for normal, everyday activities to help you heal properly and regain strength. Hair brushing and bathing are good as they involve lifting the arm above the heart. Using your muscles helps to drain lymph fluid! It also keeps your muscles flexible and helps reduce scarring. Avoiding exercise and allowing your arm to get out of shape can actually lead to lymphoedema.

What should you avoid?

There are two things I’m usually a great advocate of…body resistance exercise and swimming.

Neither of these would be great for reducing risk of oedema. So no push-ups, or ‘mountain climbers’ ..or ‘down dog’ in yoga for a while please after surgery. Swimming is fine if you want to hold a float instead of doing the arm stroke and concentrate on legs and breathing!

At home a simple , frequently repeated (3-4 times a day) exercise can help…

1. Support your arm above heart level (maybe rest it on the back of the sofa)

2. Open and close your hand 15-25 times.

This encourages the lymph fluid to pump through the undamaged vessels and so aid drainage.

If you do want to go to a gym or do home workouts, lifting very light weights is excellent. I’d start with bicep curls, then as you get stronger, shoulder presses and chest presses can be introduced. Still with light weights and progressing steadily and slowly.

Happy exercising!

Next week I’ll discuss how certain foods can help with lymphoedema.

Nic x