The benefits of exercise when living with a brain tumour
Fatigue and depression are common side effects of a brain tumour diagnosis and if you don’t do anything to combat them, they can have a negative effect on both your professional and personal life. But there are ways to help tackle fatigue and depression – and one common method is gentle, frequent exercise.
Exercise for fatigue
What is fatigue?
Fatigue is a persistent feeling of being tired, weak, worn out, slow or heavy and is the most common side effect of brain tumours, both low and high grade.
The difference between ‘normal’ fatigue (for example, from poor sleep) and persistent fatigue is that you may find it doesn’t matter how much sleep you get, you will remain tired.
Exercise to try
You should try gentle to moderate, low-impact exercise, such as walking, gardening or swimming. Even five minutes of gentle exercise can give people living with tumours:
- more energy
- reduced pain
- better sleep quality
- an improved sense of wellbeing
- an increased appetite
Join our community on Facebook
Our closed Facebook groups are a great place to connect with other people affected by a brain tumour and share exercise tips.
It’s also important to try not to stick to a rigid routine – for instance, if you’re feeling up to it, add in an extra swim per week to replace a walk, or maybe look for an aqua-aerobics class or yoga session instead. Mixing up your routine can help you stay healthy, motivated and keeps exercise feeling fun.
You might also find that some mental exercise will also help improve your fatigue, so try activities that can help to stimulate your mind, such as puzzles or arts and crafts.
Exercise for depression
What is depression?
Depression is a very common side effect of a brain tumour. A brain tumour diagnosis is a major life event and as a result it’s very natural to experience moments when you feel distressed and overwhelmed. However, when these feelings linger for weeks and months, they could be a sign of depression.
Depression is not a sign of weakness and certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Like many physical conditions, mental illness can usually be managed or treated if dealt with appropriately.
It can range from feeling relatively low for a number of weeks with no interest in what you usually enjoy, to having persistent negative thoughts and finding it mentally and/or physically difficult to take part in your usual daily activities.
Exercise to try
As with exercise for fatigue, just doing something is a start. Why not kick-off with a 20 minute walk each day and try practising relaxation techniques. You could try yoga, tai chi, or mindfulness. Many people also find that taking up a new hobby, increasing their exercise (even just regular short walks) and volunteering are great ways of building their self-esteem, reducing isolation and improving their feelings of self-identity and value.
Talk to your GP
If you think you’re suffering from depression and haven’t spoken to your local doctor yet, make an appointment. We always advise talking to your GP. Read about brain tumours and depression.
The key is to start small and find a type and level of exercise that works for you and that you’d enjoy doing most days of the week. After the exercise, you should feel energised, not wiped out.
Tips from our community
“I have to remind myself not to overdo it. My aim is to feel energised, not exhausted after exercise. If I feel like I needed to sleep straight after, then I knew I had pushed too hard.”
“I go to Zumba Gold, which is for older people that are recovering from illness or injury. The classes make me feel great and have really saved me from a downward spiral.”
“I’m a fitness instructor, but after surgery last year I really struggled. Now, I go walking while listening to an audiobook and find it really manageable. I started with just a lap or two of the garden and slowly progressed. Slow and steady is key. Listen to your body and rest when you need to.”
“I’ve found that exercise has been really useful in helping me to cope. I took up running when I was off work having treatment, because I was bored. It helped me to get fit, deal with stress and gave me something positive to focus on.”
By joining one of our our Online Support Communities, you can get more tips about living with or beyond a brain tumour diagnosis from people who truly understand what you’re going through.
Top Tips for starting exercise
If you’re a complete beginner or haven’t been leading a particularly active lifestyle lately, make sure you talk to your consultant or GP before undertaking any exercise. Remember that it’s important to start slow, you don’t want to accidentally overdo things by doing too much too soon.
- Drinking enough is really important. To keep yourself in tip-top condition, make sure you always have a water bottle with you and drink little and often whilst training, as well as before and after.
- Before starting any exercise, take time to warm up and cool down afterwards by stretching. This will prepare your body for exercise and greatly reduce your risk of injury.
- Don’t forget to rest in between your exercise – taking on too much can do you more harm than good. Professional athletes take rest days once or twice a week for physical and psychological recovery.
- Mix it up! Walking is a great place to start, but why not try other cardiovascular exercises such as swimming, cycling or dancing to keep things interesting? You could also add longer walks into your routine once or twice a week, walking at a different pace or tackling some hillier terrain from time-to-time.
- Make sure you have fun! Exercise should be an enjoyable experience, not a chore, so if you’re really not getting on with a particular type of exercise after a few goes, give something else a go instead.
- Exercise is much easier if you’re doing it with a friend and you’re more likely to keep it up if someone else is relying on you to be there. Would someone be your walking buddy?
If you feel ready to progress to jogging, why not try something like the NHS Couch to 5K plan. Designed for beginners, the weekly running plans will help you get started.
Support and Information Services
You can also join our active online community.
If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, our Support and Information team is available by phone, email or live-chat.
Share your experiences and help create change
By taking part in our Improving Brain Tumour Care surveys and sharing your experiences, you can help us improve treatment and care for everyone affected by a brain tumour.