In this blog post we look more closely at the mind and body, specifically flexibility exercises such as yoga, Pilates and tai chi/qi gong.

These types of exercise generally involve sequences of slow movements with focus on the breath that many people find calming and relaxing in a similar way to meditation and mindfulness practices, which we wrote about in one of our previous posts. 

Although there are some types of yoga that involve more dynamic movements (Ashtanga yoga is more vigorous, for example, whereas Hatha yoga is often a more gentle style), most yoga and tai chi practices are slow and gentle. This means that they are generally safe ways to exercise (A guide to tai chi - NHS (www.nhs.uk), because you’re less likely to unexpectedly fall or injure yourself when moving slowly and focusing on how your body feels. Pilates also uses slow movements and focuses in particular on stabilising the core muscles that help with balance and posture (A guide to pilates - NHS (www.nhs.uk). 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.

Because they often include holding a posture for a few moments, sometimes standing on one foot and transferring the weight to the other, yoga and tai chi can help to build strength and improve balance, which may reduce the risk of falls. Although most yoga styles are too slow to count towards the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week, they do count towards the recommendation to do strengthening exercises on at least two days per week. We wrote about the benefits of building strength in more detail in our post here.

As we mentioned in our previous post, cancer treatment can make it more difficult to do activities that support muscle strength. Yoga, Pilates and tai chi can be good exercises to begin with and can also be adapted to be done seated rather than standing.

We mentioned in last week’s post that we can lose muscle volume through spending long periods sitting or lying down. It can also cause some muscles to become shorter and tighter, which can lead to pain and stiffness. Yoga and tai chi can also help to make the muscles more flexible. Improving flexibility promotes healthy movement in the joints, improving posture and reducing pain and stiffness (How to improve your strength and flexibility - NHS (www.nhs.uk), Yoga | Complementary and alternative therapy | Cancer Research UK).

Another benefit of exercise that involves slow stretches and deep breathing is that it can help with lymphoedema. As we mentioned in our previous post about lymphoedema and exercise, movements of the muscles surrounding the lymphatic vessels help to move the lymph through the system and reduce swelling. Your lymphoedema nurse or other healthcare professional will be able to give you specific advice about which exercises would be helpful for you.

Ovacome offers weekly gentle exercise classes with Lizzy Davis, which you can register for here, and a programme of four-week yoga courses. The next course will be available to book at Come to an online event | Ovacome when booking opens.

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 at safefit.nhs.uk – Welcome to SafeFit.

You can find more information about exercise and cancer at: 

Physical activity and cancer | Booklet - Macmillan Cancer Support

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]