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May 2, 2020

Big C’s Wellbeing Blog: Keeping Active whilst Shielding or Self-Isolating

Keeping Active whilst Shielding or Self-Isolating

By Simon Gooch

UPDATED: Friday 24 July

Reduce fatigue, help with anxiety and depression, strengthen your muscles and joints, keep a healthy heart…these are just some of the many benefits of exercising and keeping active.  

However, for many people affected by cancer, exercise can be daunting – especially if you have been told to shield or self-isolate. 

Whether you are living with or beyond cancer, research has found that by being more active during this time can help make a positive change to your life (Campbell, et al., 2019).

Here is some advice on how to become more active when living with or beyond a cancer diagnosis… 

Getting Started: 

We are all different. This is the same with a cancer diagnosis. Everybody’s circumstances are different, and this should be considered when getting active.  

Before trying anything new the best thing to do is have a chat with your healthcare team.  

Finding what is right for you:  

For some people, when you mention the word exercise it is easy to have flashbacks to a stormy, wet January morning at school doing the steeplechase. However, exercise does not have to be like how it was when you were younger.

Getting active could be anything like dancing, gardening, tai chi or simply anything that helps to reduce time sat down.  

It is important to ask what do you want to achieve by getting more active?  

Most people would like to partake in their daily activities with ease and without pain. That might be taking the grandchildren to the park, carrying the shopping to the car or a long walk along the beautiful Norfolk coast.  

However, for some, your goal might be more of a challenge such as running a marathon (maybe in support of Big C). 

It is cliché but every fitness journey begins with a single step.  

An important thing to consider when keeping active, is to know your limits. Do not try anything extreme which may lead to injury. So, yes, that rules out walking up and down the lounge on your hands. 

Shielding or Self-Isolating during COVID-19 

If you are affected by cancer, it may be the case that you have been advised to ‘shield’ or you may be ‘self-isolating’. This will involve staying at home and not going out.  

This change to routine can cause stress. However, by keeping active you can help to improve your mood and reduce the monotony of staying indoors everyday.   

Top tips for getting active and exercising:

  • Prepare by wearing loose clothing, having some water, and making sure the area is clear of trip hazards 
  • If your circumstances allow, get active with someone else – this is a great motivator and could even be done over video chat 
  • Vary your workouts, this will help you find something you enjoy 
  • Try to do something every day 
  • Listen to your body – if you have pain or aching in a specific area, you may want to focus on another area for a day or two. If something does not feel right or hurts, then stop and talk to your GP 

A recent Sport England survey found that most people (67%) state that keeping active is helping with their mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some of my favourite Keeping Active at Home resources: 

The Green Goddess –  

The Green Goddess provides different exercise routines daily throughout the week on the BBC Breakfast Show which airs between 06:00 and 09:00.  

NHS Easy Exercise Guides – 

These gentle exercises will help improve your mobility. There are a variety of guides for beginners which include seated exercises, strength, flexibility and balance.  

Maybe your already quite active, the NHS Fitness Studio caters for a variety of abilities with lots of workouts you can do at home.  

Active Norfolk Helpline –

If you know someone who does not have access to the internet and would like support over the phone to exercise at home, they can call 0344 800 8020 and select Option 5 to get a free call back from Active Norfolk.

A qualified physical activity instructor will give you tailored one-to-one guidance to exercise safely at home.

The Body Coach

Famous throughout the land for his online PE classes, Joe Wicks has put together some great video workouts with his chair and whole-body sessions for older people. 

I find his videos easy to follow and he demonstrates each exercise with adjustments so you can make it easier or harder.  

Big C  –

Launching in August, Big C is launching our Get Moving with Big C programme, helping those affected by cancer to increase your physical activity. The programme consists of 1:1 sessions via video or telephone call, weekly group exercise sessions online and works on helping you to achieve your goals.

To find out more about the programme, email us at

We also have put together a gentle exercise video that you can follow at home, this will help you maintain and improve mobility at a gentle pace.  

Simon Gooch is the Health Education Officer for Big C. 

Reference: Campbell, K. L., K.M.Winters-Stone, J. Wiskemann, et al. Exercise Guidelines for Cancer Survivors: Consensus Statement from International Multidisciplinary Roundtable. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 51, No. 11, pp. 2375–2390, 2019.

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