Getting Started: Exercise, Health and Lifestyle

Move - Article 01

Starter guide to exercise and cancer

If you’re not in the habit of exercising regularly, this guide will give you some practical tips on getting started. The exercises you decide to do depend on your general fitness and your physical health – but also what you enjoy. Fitness comes in all different shapes and sizes. Find  the exercise that suits your lifestyle and health needs.

What exercise is right for me

If you’re stuck for ideas, have a quick brainstorm. Do you prefer to exercise indoors or outdoors? Do you prefer to exercise in a group environment or on your own? What kinds of exercise haven’t you tried before? Do you have any sports facilities nearby? How could you incorporate more exercise into your existing routine?

Dream big, start small

If you’re not usually active, just adding some movement to your daily life – getting off the bus one stop earlier, doing some gardening or walking for a minute after sitting down for half an hour – is a perfect start. The aim is to start slowly with some gentle activity and build incrementally each week. Exercise for your health can come in many forms, find the form that matches your level and lifestyle.

Keep it varied

We have found that it’s most helpful to do a combination of exercises greatly benefits your health.

There’s cardio, which includes jogging, swimming and dancing, but also climbing the stairs. Basically, exercises that get your heart pumping and lungs working.

There’s strength, which builds your muscle strength and mass. This generally involves lifting weights or using resistance bands, but also hanging out the laundry.

There’s stretch & flex, which keeps you flexible and balanced – and zeroes in on your posture. Yoga and tai chi are obvious examples.

Make it fun

Research into exercise and health shows finding something you enjoy doing is the secret to success. That could be playing tennis, doing yoga or signing up for a HIIT class at your gym. But it could equally be hiking, dancing around your living room or doing some gardening. If it’s fun, you’re more likely to stick at it and it’s less likely to feel like a chore.

What exercises to avoid

If you have certain types of cancer or are undergoing certain treatments, you might need to avoid some types of exercise. Ask your Onko health coach for advice.

Setting your health and exercise goals

In our experience, creating goals can be an incredible powerful driving force to keep you going. Try writing down a goal you want to achieve in 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months. For example, if you want to start swimming, you could aim to start going to the pool regularly by week 6, complete ten lengths by 3 months and twenty at month 6. By creating achievable goals, you’ll increase your chances of success and can see your progress, week by week.

When should I exercise?

The short answer is that you should exercise whenever you can fit it into your daily schedule. Try to find regular times in the week when you can be active. You’re more likely to make the habit stick if you repeat an action consistently, at a set time and a set place, because then the mind starts to follow the routine almost on autopilot.

Some people prefer to exercise first thing in the morning. In fact, studies have shown that morning activity makes you more active throughout the rest of the day. But you may prefer to do your physical activity in the evening, perhaps after work, and that’s fine too. Find the exercise plan that suits you and your lifestyle. Whatever works for you.

Staying motivated

While we encourage you to exercise every day, there’ll be days when you won’t feel like doing anything. The main thing is not to give up. To keep up the positive momentum, try to inject some fun into your workout plan.
One of the best ways is to do it with other people. Could you sign up for a group yoga session? Take up tennis? Join a hiking group? See if your gym offer specific exercise classes for people who have been unwell. There are over 400 gyms accredited by the Inclusive Fitness Initiative.

Or why not try adding music to your workout? That could mean putting on a song and dancing around your living room – or going jogging with your headphones. Studies show that music helps to distract us from pain, fatigue and lift our mood! It also motivates us to push harder, move faster and go further.

It’s also important to mix things up – variety is the spice of life. One day you could go for a walk, the next you do some water aerobics, and then another some star jumps in the comfort of your own living room.

For more information on exercise and health and the effects they have on patients recovering from chronic illnesses, please see any of our other guides or speak to one of the specialist here at Onko.

The recap

Find some exercises that work for you. The aim is to start slowly with some gentle activity and build incrementally each week.

It’s important to mix cardio with strength-building exercises as well as some flex & stretch.

Try to find regular times in the week when you can be active – consistency is the key.

It’s easy to become demotivated. It happens. But by keeping focused on your goals and injecting some fun, you’ll keep pushing on through.