So you’ve decided you want/need/have to exercise after your cancer diagnosis. But you’ve never been hugely into fitness and despite knowing all of the advantages, the thought of getting started feels extremely daunting. Sound familiar?
I’ll be honest. Some days I feel like this too. We all do. My motivational reason to exercise, beyond the benefits on my health, is that buzz and high I’m going to feel once I’ve done a workout. That’s worth getting out of bed for, I promise.
Just because you haven’t enjoyed exercise before, doesn’t mean you can’t start to enjoy it later in life. Maybe you just didn’t find the best match for you? Here are some of my thoughts on how to fall in love with exercise after cancer.
Find something you love
If running isn’t your thing, don’t do it! Have you tried cycling or dancing? Try to find an activity or sport that you truly enjoy and will stick to. Consider activities that genuinely bring you joy and then see how you can translate them into exercise. If you like to dance with music, try Zumba. If you prefer something slower give different types of yoga or mobility classes a go. Strength training after cancer is important but the instructor who takes the class can vary your experience hugely. Give a few classes a go before deciding what works best for you.
Get a training partner
Exercising with a friend, family member, or community combines exercise and socialising. Furthermore, it makes you more accountable. If you set a date, you have to show up. So, whether it’s a friend or a stranger, find a training partner to help keep each other on track. If you’re already a GMB member, why not connect with others within our community and join classes together?
Make it a habit
Exercise that fits within your day will become a habit, and part of your routine. Can you include movement on the way to work, book class in your lunch break or ensure you have an appointment in the evening? I book time in my diary on the days I plan to exercise to ensure nothing is booked around it and then head out to do what I need to do, as I would with any other appointment. Soon, it becomes normal and part of my routine.
Find the best time of day for you
Are you a morning person or a night owl? We are all different, and particularly after cancer, energy levels change throughout the day. Pick a time of day when you know you will have the most amount of energy, and feel more mobile and motivated. For me, exercise in the morning will set me up for the rest of the day.
Once you get going, it can feel good to workout every day. And actually, exercise is a bit addictive. But remember, your body also needs time to recover. At the start, ensure you leave a day between harder bursts of movement. You don’t need to sit on the sofa all day, but a gentler approach on these days is recommended. Keep up your protein intake throughout the day to aid repair.
Keep it real
One of the hardest challenges I had when I started exercising after cancer was competing with my pre-cancer self. I used to be able to run x distance, or lift x weight. What we forget is how much our bodies have been through. We need to treat them with respect and build progressively back up at a steady rate. Keep your goals realistic and achievable. This will also help with motivation.
Kindness is key
Keeping it real also involves being kind to yourself. Progress after cancer is NOT linear. It’s an up and down and even round and around, but every step is a step forward. Be kind to yourself on days you don’t feel like moving. Do something gentle instead, or start again the next day. Treat your body with the respect it deserves – feed is nutritious food and give it time to adjust.
Focus on you
It is ok to put yourself first. In fact it’s extremely important you do. Exercise time is you time. It’s time you need to support your recovery. Make this time is non-negotiable. Allow yourself to be selfish, to put yourself first. It’s about time you did. And enjoy it.
Keep an eye out on our social media feeds over the whole of February for motivational tips and ideas to help you find your love for movement.
(Follow @getmebackuk on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok)