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Supporting patients to stay active

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Tracy Bracewell has always tried to encourage her patients to be as active as they can. “We all know the basics about healthy lifestyles, and obviously exercise is very important,” says the lead staff nurse for gynaeoncology at East Lancashire Hospitals Trust… 

physical activity

But when she heard a lecture detailing all the potential benefits of physical activity for people with a cancer diagnosis, she resolved to make such conversations an even more central part of her work.

“I attended a day seminar in Preston about pelvic radiotherapy, and they had a speaker there promoting the Macmillan Move More programme. He did a lecture about it, which I found very interesting.

“He talked about how activity can help reduce recurrence and promote healing and recovery after a cancer diagnosis.”

Despite these known benefits, research suggests that only 23 per cent of people living with cancer are active to recommended levels. Part of the challenge can be that people feel daunted at the prospect of trying to be active for 30 minutes five days a week while living with cancer.

Nurses and other healthcare professionals can also feel daunted about bringing it up. That’s why Macmillan Cancer Support has created an online learning module on the topic, which is accredited by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) as well as the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

Ms Bracewell eagerly signed up for the course after that initial interest-sparking lecture. The module, which runs once a month, emphasises the significant benefits of keeping active for people living with cancer – including reducing the impact of related problems such as anxiety, fatigue and depression.

It also details techniques nurses can use to offer their patients effective advice on physical activity in less than two minutes.

The learning builds on recommendations from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) about using the ‘ask, advise, act’ framework to motivate people to make a lifestyle change. One of the key points emphasised in the module is that becoming more physically active really just means moving more.

“We’re not all going to become marathon runners!” stresses Ms Bracewell.

“[You can] bring in the natural things that you will build up to do again after a cancer diagnosis and treatment – incorporating gardening, dog walking, things like that.”

She adds: “It [could also be] gentle walking and building it up, or things as simple as gentle tai chi or gentle yoga.”

And Ms Bracewell is in little doubt that those of her patients who do become more active see the benefits as a result.“Quite often the ones who do find they sleep better, they need less analgesia, they cope with treatments better, and it generally improves mood. It’s quite a tonic.

“It can be hard to do when they’re feeling down, but it’s just about doing small amounts regularly, and building up as they’re feeling better.”

Concludes Ms Bracewell: “I’m all about promoting health and recovery.”


Macmillan’s Understanding Physical Activity and Cancer course is available as an e-resource, which can be taken at any time, and a live monthly webinar. Both are free to access, and available to any nurse. To find out more, visit

The organisation’s website also contains information for health and social care professionals on physical activity in people with cancer.

You can order resources including booklets and DVDs here

At, meanwhile, a Move More guide is available which nurses can share with their patients. 

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