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Getting active and exercising

Many people presume if you have lung cancer, you should avoid exercising. It is natural to feel a little nervous about being too active and getting out of breath. However, staying active and undertaking light exercise has been shown to help better tolerate, respond to and recover from lung cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

Don't be afraid to exercise if you have lung cancer
Don’t be afraid to exercise if you have lung cancer

Exercising can also help you:

  • Manage lung cancer fatigue
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Boost your mood and energy levels
  • Help you relax
  • Improve your sleep
  • Reduce the risk of depression
  • Increase your appetite.

Putting together a suitable programme of breathing, walking, stretching and strength training will help you with your illness and develop your energy and endurance.

There may be suitable locally organised exercise programmes you can join. Your lung cancer nurse specialist or physiotherapist will be able to advise you whether these would be suitable for you and how you can access them.

Stretching exercises

Regular stretching exercises for your upper body will help improve mobility in your chest and back. It also helps your lungs and diaphragm move more freely, encouraging deeper breathing and improving circulation.

Shoulder stretch

  • Reach one hand and wrist over the opposite shoulder
  • Use your other hand to push your elbow
  • Hold for 20 seconds
  • Relax, then repeat with the other arm.
Shoulder stretch

Triceps stretch

  • Bend and lift one arm over your head
  • Reach your hand between your shoulder blades
  • With the other hand, grasp the elbow and push it back and down until you feel the stretching at the back of your upper arm.
  • Hold for 20 seconds
  • Relax, then repeat with the other arm.
Tricep stretch
Tricep stretch

Standing side stretch

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms relaxed at your side
  • As you breathe in, raise your left arm straight up over your head
  • As you breathe out, lean over to the right, keeping your hips facing forward and your buttocks tucked under
  • Lengthen your neck and stretch over to your side as far as you can
  • Hold this pose for a few breaths, focusing on expanding your rib cage.
  • As you exhale, return to standing
  • Repeat on the opposite side.
Standing side stretch

Strength Building Exercises

People with lung cancer may benefit from doing strengthen exercises because they can build up muscles that were weakened from symptoms and anti-cancer treatments. Strength training can also help improve your balance, posture and increase bone strength.

Bicep curls

  • Stand with your arms hanging down, holding a tin, or weight, in each hand
  • Turn your palms forward
  • Bend and then straighten your elbows
  • Repeat 10 times.

Knee bends

  • Stand in front of a table or chair and hold on with both hands
  • Slowly bend your knees, keeping your back straight and heels flat
  • You should feel a stretching in your buttocks and the front of your thighs (quads)
  • Hold for a few seconds before straightening your knees and returning to your starting position
  • Repeat 10 times.
Knee bends

Heel raises

  • Stand in front of a table or chair and hold on with both hands
  • Slowly push up onto your tiptoes, raising your heels of the ground
  • Lower them slowly back to the ground
  • Repeat 10 times.
Heel raises

It is really important to be as active as you can. This does not necessarily mean going for a run or to the gym. There are many light exercises you can do that fit into your everyday life including:

  • Going for a walk
  • Doing some gardening
  • Taking your children or grandchildren to the park
  • Walking upstairs instead of taking the lift
  • Strolling round museums, galleries or shopping centres
  • Light aerobic exercise including swimming, walking or gentle jogging
  • Yoga and Pilates.

The most important thing is you don’t try and push yourself too hard. This can be difficult, particularly if you were quite active before your diagnosis. You may need to be patient and realistic about how much you can do now compared to before. Lung cancer reduces strength and endurance no matter how fit you have been.

You may find that at times, particularly during periods of treatment, you feel more tired than usual. Be guided by your own body. It is better to rest if you feel ‘below par’ rather than carry on regardless and cause a setback to your recovery. Aim to pick up again as soon as possible.

“It’s ok to say ‘I don’t feel up to it today’ if you’re having a bad day. However, when you’re feeling stronger, try and push yourself a little bit harder to get back some normality.”

Michele, living with lung cancer
Michele was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007

For further help and advice, download our full Living with lung cancer guide