Exercise that builds muscle strength and mass is also known as anaerobic exercise (Exercise guidelines for cancer patients, Cancer Research UK). The NHS recommends doing strengthening exercises on at least two days each week.

Examples include weight training and exercises that use your muscles to support or move your body weight. Daily activities such as carrying shopping bags, digging in the garden or lifting things onto high shelves can also be part of your strength exercise, if your muscles are working hard enough. Many types of cardio exercise also help to build strength.

Although exercise is generally beneficial for people living with ovarian cancer, it’s important to adapt your activities to keep them safe for you as you go through treatment and recovery and beyond. Your Clinical Nurse Specialist or physiotherapist will be able to advise you about which exercises are safe and beneficial for you as your treatment and recovery progress.

As we mentioned in our previous posts, being physically fit can help with your recovery from surgery and you will be encouraged to start moving around as soon as you safely can after an operation. One of the reasons for this is that our muscles start to lose volume if they aren’t used enough. Spending long periods lying or sitting can lead to loss of muscle mass, which makes some daily activities more difficult. Strengthening exercises help to prevent or reduce this.

Cancer treatment can make it more difficult to do activities that support muscle strength. For example, you may be in bed during your recovery from surgery, feel fatigued during chemotherapy or have joint pain from maintenance therapies such as Avastin. You can do small amounts of gentle exercise to begin with, including movements that can be done seated, and build up gradually as you feel able.

Another important benefit of strengthening exercise is that it promotes bone health. Our bones tend to lose density as we get older (Age and bone strength, ROS), particularly after the menopause. If your bone density as shown on a bone density (DEXA) scan is lower than the average adult, but not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis, this is called osteopenia (Osteopenia, ROS) and increases the risk of fractures. Osteopenia is also a side effect of hormone therapies such as Letrozole (Macmillan Cancer Support), as they block the effects of oestrogen in the body, including on the bones.

Bones get stronger when the muscles pull on them and from the impact of our feet striking the ground when we walk, run or jump (Exercise for bones, ROS). Exercise can therefore also help to prevent or reduce osteopenia.

If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, which means that the bones are more fragile (Osteoporosis - NHS), exercise is still beneficial and can be adapted to keep it safe for you. For example, depending on your risk of fractures, you may be advised to avoid high-impact activities (where both feet are off the ground at the same time) or certain movements such as bending and twisting at the waist. You can find more information about exercising with osteoporosis here and 'About exercise for osteoporosis and bone health', Royal Osteoporosis Society.

Ovacome offers weekly gentle exercise classes with Lizzy Davis, which you can register for and a programme of four-week yoga courses. You can also watch a video in which Lizzie demonstrates some wall-based strengthening exercises.

Your team may know of local gentle exercise classes run by cancer support centres, gyms or community groups, although at the moment most classes will be either suspended due to Covid restrictions or taking place virtually. If you would like us to research available activities in your local area, please get in touch with us.

There is a free remote trial currently running called ‘SafeFit,’ which is designed to support people living with cancer to maintain and improve their physical and emotional wellbeing during the Covid pandemic, whilst following Government guidelines. Participants are put in touch with a cancer exercise specialist, who will provide free advice, support and resources. You can find out more and refer yourself to the trial here. 

Find our more information about exercise and cancer here.

If you would like to share your experiences of exercise during and after ovarian cancer treatment or have any tips, please comment on this post. If you would like information or support, please contact our Support Line on 0800 008 7054 or email [email protected]