Get your trainers on: exercising during treatment

Get your trainers on: exercising during treatment

Mmmmmmmm exercise. Exercise when you have the energy of a zombie? Exercise when you want to curl up under the duvet for a year? Exercise when your tears won’t stop? Exercise when you feel like you have the world’s worst hangover mixed in with a gallon of caffeine coursing through your veins? Exercise when you want to sleep forever? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I was told a little gentle exercise will help. My husband told me. The oncologist told me. The chemo nurses told me. All the help websites told me. However, I did not feel like doing any exercise. But I tied up my trainer laces, peeled myself off the sofa and went for a gentle walk. A gentle walk a couple of times a day. No more that 10-15 minutes on my bad days, but longer and longer on my good days. And it really did help me. I felt physically better. And I felt mentally better.

Some people try to carry on with their pre-diagnosis exercise regime as much as they can. We are all different when it comes to energy levels and exercising during treatment.

My top ten tips are:

1. Take professional advice from your oncologist and/or chemo nurses on the type and extent of exercise you should be doing at each stage of treatment. For example, after surgery you will not be up to doing the same as when you are starting radiotherapy.

2. It might be best to stick to the type and intensity of exercise that you were doing before your breast cancer diagnosis – it might not be a good idea to start a new intense type of exercise that you are not used to, whilst also going through treatment. Your body has enough going on.

3. Remember that just doing things like housework, shopping, collecting children from school and gardening are all forms of exercise.

4. If you are at risk of lymphoedema then be careful of any exercises that may increase your risk of causing it to flare up and consider seeking professional advice about any exercise regime that uses your upper body.

5. During chemo remember that you have a low immunity so if you go to a gym or studio class take the usual precautions for avoiding infection (avoid anyone with an infection, use antibacterial wipes on the equipment etc). And it might be best to avoid public swimming pools. Check with your oncologist about gyms and swimming.

6. If you need motivation then you could make an uplifting playlist to listen to while walking or running.

7. Walking is great because you are also getting fresh air (if you can walk away from the roads such as in a park or the countryside then it is even better).

8. Check if your local leisure centre or council put on any exercise programmes for ladies going through cancer treatment.

9. Remember to take water with you whatever exercise you are doing, and keep well hydrated.

10. The benefits of exercising during treatment are huge:

  • Feeling better physically
  • Feeling better mentally
  • Controlling weight
  • Fresh air (if outside)
  • Seeing people and a change of scene
  • Getting out of the house and realising that even though you are feeling awful, life carries on as normal around you.  This was an important one for me.


CRUK exercise guidelines for during cancer treatment.

If you need help to be more active then check out the Macmillan Move More Guide and their pages on supporting you to exercise. You can search for activities near you, download exercise guides, talk to experts, order a pedometer or exercise DVD, and read a whole range of resources about exercising during treatment.

Breast Cancer Now have a lot of information on their website about exercising during treatment.

CancerFit – A website providing resources regarding exercise for people living with and beyond cancer.

5Kyourway A community-based initiative to encourage those living with and beyond cancer, families, friends and those working in cancer services to walk, jog, run, cheer or volunteer at a local 5k Your Way parkrun event on the last Saturday of every month. Check out the website to find your nearest parkrun and don’t worry about running – you can also walk it.

Trekstock have LOADS of information about exercising during and after cancer. They are aimed at people in ther 20s, 30s and 40s but do still have a look at their resources online if you are older. For those in the right age bracket, RENEW is an amazing free resource – it’s their free eight week group exercise programme, held in London and led by Level 4 Cancer Rehab qualified trainers, and tailored to you. They also hold regular Meet and Move sessions around the country and offer a great selection of online exercise videos.

Breast Cancer Haven have online videos for gentle yoga and nordic walking.

Move Against Cancer provide lots of support and help in exercising during cancer treatment including, for example, a free eight week online programme.

Mary Huckle Mary is a personal trainer and Pilates instructor living with stage 4 breast cancer. Since her primary diagnosis in 2007, Mary has helped dozens of women with breast cancer, to regain and retain their fitness, before, during and after surgery and treatment. She regularly inspires others by delivering motivational speeches, sharing her own experience and talks passionately about how exercise has helped her both physically and mentally.

She’s very happy to have 1-1 conversations regarding breast cancer and exercise. Contact details are:

Email her at

Instagram at, Twitter at @mary_huckle, Facebook at @breakthroughfitness1, Her website is

(Information up to date as at 26 January 2020. Disclaimer: Please note that I am not a doctor, psychologist, surgeon, or other medical professional, I am just someone who has traveled the breast cancer road. Nothing in this website is intended to be taken as professional, medical or definitive advice. It merely contains tips and advice based on my experience together with information which I have researched from some excellent websites and books. ALWAYS talk to your medical team about concerns and questions relating to your cancer treatment plan. And please note that I cannot accept responsibility for the content of the websites to which I provide links.)

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