People recover much more quickly and have fewer complications from their treatment if they think positively about their health and keep active throughout the day, rather than spending long periods of time sitting or lying still.
The physiotherapy team may already have given you some exercises to help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and the muscles in your abdomen and lower back. These exercises are important for regaining bowel control and increasing your strength and stamina. Housework and other more strenuous physical activities can be gradually re-introduced into your daily routine, however driving and lifting heavy objects can strain healing muscles and skin.
Once you have had your post-operative follow-up appointment, you can start to think about increasing your exercise. Whatever exercise you choose, a little bit of advance planning can be useful. This includes knowing where the toilets are, or taking some spare clothing with you in case of unexpected accidents.
The benefits of exercise
Regular exercise increases the sense of self-empowerment for both you and your family if they choose to join you. It makes you feel good about yourself and can restore your confidence after cancer treatment has finished. There is strong evidence that exercise has major benefits on many of the symptoms and side-effects associated with cancer treatment, including fatigue, nausea, constipation, sleeplessness, joint and muscle pain. It can improve your brain function, prevent weight gain, lower cholesterol levels, reduce anxiety and depression and improve your memory.
Introducing exercise into your routine
The trick with exercise is to do it regularly – keeping an exercise diary may be helpful. This can be as simple as walking briskly for 20-30 minutes every day. Buy a comfortable pair of training shoes so you are ready to go. If you can’t get to a gym or an organised class, you could invest in an exercise bike, treadmill or rowing machine to use at home. There are plenty of second-hand ones online!
You can build exercise into your day by walking instead of using the car or bus for short journeys, or get off the bus one stop earlier. Use the stairs instead of a lift or escalator. If you are watching TV, get up and have a walk around every half hour. Take a 10 minute walk before dinner every evening. If you are at work and desk-bound, make a point of getting up for a walk round the office every half hour and make time for a walk at lunchtime.
Exercising in a group is a great way to get out and meet people and if you really enjoy the activity you are more likely to stick with it. Look out for dance, fitness, tai chi or yoga classes in your area. There are many excellent rehabilitation and exercise programmes available. Your GP, specialist nurse, your local sports centre or swimming pool will have more information about exercise referral schemes, support groups and exercise classes.