Help with exercise

You might think exercise is the last thing on your mind when you are diagnosed with a blood cancer. It’s true that you may need to take precautions, you might be able to do less than you could before, or you might not be able to exercise at particular stages of your journey.

However, most people are surprised to hear that doctors recommend the cancer patients try to undertake the same amount of exercise as healthy people. Macmillan conducted a review of the scientific literature on exercise in people with cancer in 2012. They found evidence that exercising can help you deal with side effects and symptoms, as well prevent the decline in fitness levels without making your fatigue worse.

The type of exercise you choose to do will depend on many factors:

  • The current level of fitness and mobility
  • Treatments you are having and how they affect you
  • Whether you can go elsewhere to exercise: you may be advised not to go to a gym if you are susceptible to infection, for example.
  • What you would like to achieve from exercising (socialising, mobility, strength, overall fitness, improved mental health etc.)

It’s important to get advice and to remember that everyone has an individual experience.

For more information on the benefits of exercising and how to keep yourself safe when exercising during your leukaemia journey, visit the NHS website or read a blog from our Nurse Advisor Fiona here.

Where do I go for more help or to get me started?

For many people, not just cancer patients, exercising regularly can be hard to stick to and a daunting prospect. However, you do not have to plan alone; there are plenty of resources to help you get started.

Talk to your healthcare team:

If you are not sure where to begin, visit your GP. Not only will they be able to advise you on things to avoid and take in account your medical history, but they can also help you find local classes or schemes and direct you to any help available on the NHS. Your Clinical Nurse Specialist will also be able to advise you on this too. Speak to your haematologist if you have any concerns about particular treatments or if your GP cannot answer your questions.

Videos and apps:

More and more people are shunning the local gym for at home exercise regimes. This is a good option if you want to exercise flexibly and cheaply or for free. However, as you are exercising alone, it is best to ask for advice from your healthcare team as to the suitability of the exercises first.

This month, Leukaemia Care has developed some of our own workout videos. We asked patient and keen bodybuilder, Drew Laird, to show us the routine he is using to get back into shape 6 months post-diagnosis with CML. We also asked local Macmillan Move More Physical Coordinator, Di Fox, to show us some gentle strength building exercises for the whole body that you can do from a seated position.

If you want a different type or level of exercise, there are plenty of other videos available online. Here are some ideas of places you could try:

  • Youtube – there is a Youtube video for every type of exercise imaginable. You might like to watch the video through first to check it is suitable for you.
  • Couch to 5K: this is an NHS app/podcast series that claims to teach you to run 5K in 12 weeks. This might be a good way for runners to get back into their favourite exercise, as it alternates walking and running in a way that helps you build up your stamina.
  • FitBit – This is just one of many brands of smart wristbands available. These may be useful for you if you would like to track how your everyday activities (e.g. walking to the shops, gardening etc.) are helping you regain fitness. They also let you monitor specific types of exercise, such as running, jogging, team sports or yoga.

There are many other apps and video website available. If you would like help finding something that works for you, please get in contact with the team.

The gym

The gym can be useful if you are looking to use specialist equipment to help you regain fitness. Most gyms will give you a free induction to show you how to use everything safely. Your local gym may also have a swimming pool, which many people find a gentle way exercise. Gyms also often have classes, which are a good way to get help from an instructor.

However, as gyms and pools are public places, you will need to get advice on your risk of infection from a healthcare professional before you go ahead.

Community classes/groups

There may also be classes or groups outside of the gym for you to try. One example is Walking Football; this is football that is played indoors, and you are not allowed to run. This means people of any ability can take part on an equal playing field.

The internet, local newspapers or magazines and local health professionals will be good places to get more information on what’s available in your area. You may be able to find classes that are specifically for people living with or recovering from cancer.

One to one support

If you are looking for a professional to help you build an exercise routine, you might like to look for a personal trainer. Personal trainers have qualifications that enable them to recommend exercises to focus on certain areas of the body or on certain aspects of fitness, such as strength or stamina. The internet will be a good way to find them or ask at your local gym. To be sure you have a certified professional, ask if they are on the Register of Exercise Professionals or the National Register of Personal Trainers.

You may also be able to find similar help in your area for free through the Macmillan Move More scheme. This is designed to encourage all cancer patients to get more active. They have an information pack that you can order from their website, including a DVD and activity planners. There is also a network of professionals that you can go to for more information; this will depend on whether there is a scheme in your area. Macmillan have partnered with universities and hospitals to provide fitness professionals for this service; you can find out if there is a scheme in your area via the Macmillan website.

For more help finding exercise options for you, you can email support@leukaemiacare.org.uk or call our helpline on 08088 010 444.

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We're saying thank you for the invaluable role that Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) have in a leukaemia patient's journey. We want CNSs to know that they matter to patients, to charities and to other healthcare professionals.

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