Cardio (also known as aerobic exercise) means exercise that makes you breathe faster and speeds your heart rate up. Examples include running, aerobics and sports such as tennis and football. Daily activities such as walking, cycling, gardening and housework can also count towards your cardio, if you’re moving enough to raise your heart and breathing rates.

Cardio can also be divided into moderate and vigorous levels of intensity. Moderate activity is enough to raise your heart and breathing rates and make you feel warmer, but you’re still able to talk. Vigorous activity makes you breathe hard and fast, so you can speak a few words but it’s difficult to say more without pausing for breath. The NHS recommendation is to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. You can read more about these definitions and recommendations at Exercise - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Cardio increases your general fitness, strengthens your heart and lungs, helps to maintain a healthy weight and supports your body’s ability to recover from physical stress and exertion. Watch this animation about what happens in our bodies when we exercise.

Being as physically fit as possible before surgery can help with your recovery, and you may be advised to exercise as part of your preparations to go into hospital. Some hospitals offer ‘prehabilitation’ programmes to help people to improve their general health before they have surgery, for example 'Prehabilitation before surgery with our Get Set 4 Surgery programme' (stgeorges.nhs.uk).

As we mentioned in our ‘Health in Focus’ post, you will also be encouraged to start physical activity after surgery as soon as it’s safe for you to do so, to reduce the risk of complications such as blood clots and help with your recovery.

Aerobic exercise also supports mental health and self-esteem and can help with depression and anxiety Exercise for depression - NHS  and Self-help - Generalised anxiety disorder in adults - NHS.

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.

For example, during and after chemotherapy, you may be advised to avoid exercising in places where you could come into contact with a lot of people, such as gyms or group classes, until your immune system has recovered (Eating well and keeping active - Macmillan Cancer Support). If you’re recovering from surgery, your abdominal muscles will need time to regain their strength before you do anything too strenuous (christie.nhs.uk, pages 15-16). 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.

Peripheral neuropathy can cause difficulties with walking, balance and using your hands. This may affect your ability to do exercise that involves moving your feet or using equipment like hand weights, balls and racquets.

Depending on how the neuropathy is affecting you, you may be able to do low-impact exercises, where one foot is always on the ground, such as brisk walking or group exercise classes, use a stationary bike, go swimming or do exercise that doesn’t involve the legs at all such as canoeing or chair-based exercise. The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy often start to improve after treatment ends, so you may find that you are gradually able to try other kinds of exercise.

Some treatments for ovarian cancer, including hormone therapies and Avastin, have joint pain as one of their side effects, which can make movement more difficult. If joint pain is affecting your ability to exercise, you may find non-weight-bearing types of aerobic exercise such as swimming and cycling easier. Exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joints can also be beneficial, and you can ask about referral to a physiotherapist if you would like advice on which exercises would be helpful for you. You can find more information about managing joint pain due to hormone therapies here.

Low-impact or non-weight-bearing exercise may also be recommended if you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, which affects bone strength and can increase the risk of fractures. We will look further at bone health in next week’s post on exercise for strength.

Ovacome offers weekly gentle exercise classes with Lizzy Davis, which you can register for and a programme of four-week yoga courses.

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-19 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-19 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. 

You can find more information about exercise and cancer at:

Physical activity and cancer | Booklet - Macmillan Cancer Support

Exercise guidelines for cancer patients | Cancer Research UK | Coping physically

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]