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On Friday 25
May we hosted a live webchat on physical activity and cancer. Our experts were Macmillan Nurse Louise
Bolton, and Matt Corder from the Active Luton Project, who works with cancer
patients to help them become more active. They answered questions on the
benefits of physical activity, and on the types and levels of activity that are
suitable for people living with cancer or after treatment.
to Louise and Matt, and to everyone who came along and asked a question. If
you’d like to know more, read our website section on physical
activity and cancer.
A lot of
people think that you should get as much rest as possible during cancer
treatment - is this true?
Louise: That was the old advice. We now encourage people to be as active
as they can manage to help reduce fatigue tiredness, stress and anxiety. This
also helps look after your bones and heart, and reduces the risk of getting a
blood clot, as well as help with maintaining a healthy weight.
someone is worried about what levels of physical activity are safe for them,
what should they do?
Louise: Levels of physical activity depend on your age and how active
you normally are, as well as your cancer diagnosis and the treatment you have
had or are having. You could discuss this with your doctor or clinical nurse
specialist and see if there is an exercise referral scheme in your area to
advise you further.
are any specific exercises that you would recommend for someone with
lymphoedema in the upper arm following surgery for breast cancer?
Matt: We currently have a number of patients on our programme who
require the same sort of exercise. We recommend that you always wear your
support. You can focus exercise on the specific muscle groups of the upper arm
to build up strength and flexibility for your upper arm. Gym-based exercise is
ideal for this, using the equipment such as the bicep curl and tricep curl machines.
You can start with a low weight resistance and just do sets of 5 reps with a
minute of rest in between, and slowly build up from there.
You can also use small hand weights at home and bring your arms out in
front of you, then to the side, and then slowly try and raise them to a height
that you are comfortable with. Hand bikes are very good in a gym, as is a
rowing machine. When strength and flexibility increase, swimming is also good
as it takes away joint pressure.
What are the
benefits of swimming after having finished treatment for breast cancer?
Matt: Swimming is a fantastic physical activity for weight management
and cardio fitness. It is also relatively accessible to all and a fairly
inexpensive activity. There is also the option of group activity in the pool,
such as aqua fit, which is also great for a total body workout with the added
bonus of no pressure on the joints.
I am quite
aerobically fit and am just getting back into weight training. But I am
struggling with stomach exercises following the major surgery I had last March
and, because I have not been much inclined to do anything about this until
recently, I would appreciate your thoughts on good stomach exercise that does
not involve swimming!
Matt: Depending on your surgery limitations there would be fitness
classes, for example the classic, Thighs, Bums and Tums, which would benefit
the abdominal muscle groups. There are specific machines in a gym that work the
abs, but without knowing what effect your surgery has had, it’s difficult for
me to advise. Sit ups are great, and you can do them anywhere, but, again, this
depends on your individual limitations.
Pilates or Yoga would also be great to help build up strength and toning
of the stomach, and are low impact.
proved problematic as my lack of muscle means my back takes more of the strain
(have had a prolapsed disc for over 30 years which flares up now and again) so I
think I will have to avoid that for now. Can do sit ups but the discomfort
afterwards is not motivating me to make a huge effort. So my next question
would be - what do you suggest for motivation?
Louise: Have you got a gym buddy who can help support you? It is
important to set yourself an achievable goal that is realistic to your current
level of fitness. Maybe look at a new activity you have not tried before?
I used to
be very active and am struggling to do things that will help maintain my
weight/ lose it as I have been fairly inactive since the diagnosis. I have
tried brisk walking with a compression stocking but my arm aches for approx 3
days after. Is this normal? Also I have tried swimming and I am good at that
but I am struggling to take it easy as I used to swim 60 to 100 lengths.
Matt: Again swimming would be good as its low impact on joints as you
are weightless in a pool.
But I am
allergic to something in communal pools so I don't like to go - I sneeze and
have to blow my nose constantly for hours after.
Another community member: You can use nose plugs.
Matt: Have you tried any fitness classes or gym-based activity? Perhaps
some gym-based work focusing on the lower body will still allow you to exercise
but limit the strain on your arm. The other option is to use upper body-specific
gym machines to help build up the muscle group and mobility of that joint in
order to stop the ache in the long term.
The recumbent bike will be good in the gym. This is the one where you
are leaning back - as you are in a more relaxed position, this machine will
enable you to burn calories whilst not moving your arms.
have started to be not as toned as they were previously. I have to be in a
wedding dress in August. Am I allowed to use small weights for my arms? I kind
of got scared and stopped everything.
Matt: I think light weights would be ok for your arms, just not dynamic
explosive movements. Bicep and tricep curls with small weights will be great -
you can even use tins of beans while you’re at home!
I have a
problem finding the time to train now I’m back to work full time. I have to
squeeze it in when I can, that's usually evenings and then I'm tired out the
next day. So any suggestions for exercises I can do in the office (without
frightening my colleagues!)?
Matt: There are a few chair-based activities you can do. They are very
low intensity, though, like spelling words out with your legs/feet etc. The
other option is maybe using a swiss ball as your chair at work. This is
something i have seen introduced to some offices as you are always doing small
movements to balance yourself and is great for toning and core strength I would
practice at home, though, first so you don’t fall off in the office!
lymphoedema for about 5 years now and the summer also makes it fatter so how
can I keep it cool?
Louise: Do you wear a support that could be cooled before you put it on
or spray it periodically with water to dampen it?
Matt: There is a product called Magicool that is in an aerosol you can
spray it and gives you an instant cool hit. Boots was the last place I found it
in March this year. You don’t need to put it in the fridge, it just stays
anywhere and sprays from the can.
suggestions for someone who is dealing with neuropathy?
Louise: Neuropathy is nerve damage. There is more information on neuropathy
on the Macmillan website.
Matt: Is it localised to a specific body part?
needles in my fingertips, but my whole hands are stiff and sore so gripping is
a bit of an issue.
Matt: Perhaps some gym or cycling gloves would help with grip. Have you
tried using hand grips or a stress ball type device? Even a foam tennis ball
would be good to use at the start and build up.
When I swim
can I do front crawl, butterfly and backstroke too? Backstroke will be especially
hard for me as I don't have full motion yet.
Matt: Perhaps breast stoke would be good for you, or use a float to hold
onto and swim that way.
I have been
thinking about going swimming to help my muscles, but I need a swimming costume
for mastectomy. I also have neuropathy in my hands and feet which make me
scared of stubbing my toes.
Louise: Your breast care nurse should have up to
date advice about swimming costumes post-surgery. In the back of health and
fitness magazines you often see adverts for specific costumes.
I think Bravissimo also has a service to help you
if you have a shop near you. Or a specific lingerie shop who will sometimes
know someone clever with needle work who could adapt bras of your choice.
Matt: Perhaps you could look into whether your
local swimming pool has 'Ladies Only' sessions to help you ease back into
swimming. There are swim socks, swim slippers made from wetsuit material that
may help grip on your feet and ease any impact
What is the best exercise for weight loss for someone like me who is
menopausal or weight gain for someone who has lost weight during treatment?
Matt: Macmillan has produced a booklet called ‘Weight
Management After Treatment’ – that helps with the diet and nutrition
side of things. All Macmillan booklets can be ordered
Exercise-wise, the best for weight loss is going to
be a cardio workout combined with a balanced diet. Exercise bike, cycling,
treadmill, running, rowing machine and cross trainer are all good. It’s the
intensity of exercise that burns calories.
Moderate to high intensity means you are able to
talk, but your breathing is quicker, body is warm, face might be red, and heart
rate increased. High intensity means you can't talk, and are breathing very
hard. The longer you can maintain that intensity the more calories you will
A combination will work over time. You will notice
a change in body shape before a loss on scales, though.
I had my last chemo session on the 14th November. In February I noticed that I couldn't move my fingers, they felt like they were dislocated (thats the only way I can describe the feeling). I believed it to be arthritus so went to the doctors. Bloods and x-rays later good news not arthritus But....My hands are still really bad. I have to physically move each hand using the other hand. Once I have got them going and they had clicked, I'm ok for a while, but as soon I stop moving them for a while they just stiffen up again and I have to start the exercise again. I also find all the knuckles are painful and my bones hurt pretty much like what I felt during the chemo. Over use of my hands like at work when I have to type is also diffucult. I do find wam helps so I have a beany bag to help. I have been referred to a specialist and go on the 18th. I just want to know has anyone else experienced this???? I also am finding it difficult post chemo to get back to normal life. I feel pretty isolated at times
It was me who was asking questions about my hands in the Move More webchat as I have been having mega hand aches following my cancer too. (Finished chemo in July and pain started in March so I wasn't sure if there was any connection).
My GP thought arthritis too and prescribed me with anti inflammatories but I didn't think that his advice was right and never took them. My oncologist is watching me as the aches have now subsided on their own without treatment, although I do a lot of hand stretches in the morning to 'de-stiff' them.
We will never know if it was chemo that caused it but maybe it was? If you want to 'Friend' me on here, I'll be happy to talk to you privately about my return to 'normal' life if it will help you?
Take care. J X
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