Exercise shown to improve physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing of people with terminal cancer

Categories: Research.

The day therapy unit at the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead has a purpose built gym and physiotherapists regularly provide individually tailored exercise programmes for patients.

Senior physiotherapist Karen Turner carried out a qualitative study to explore patients’ experience of these exercise programmes. As part of the study, a series of interviews were carried out with nine patients with advanced cancer to explore the physical, emotional and social impacts of their participation.

In addition to the physical benefits – for example an increase in strength, fitness, movement and function, which all help improve independence – participants also reported an increased sense of control as well as a sense of achievement.

The researchers also noted that participants’ mood was improved – they felt more focussed, cheerful, energized – and a positive change in participants’ outlook and the way they perceived themselves, their lives and their situation.

There were also a social benefits which came from the interactions with others also exercising and the encouragement/camaraderie experienced.

In their research paper the authors note that “patients receiving palliative care often have difficulty accessing mainstream gym facilities,” and suggest that there is a need to improve provision and staffing of rehabilitation services within the hospice sector so that more people can experience these benefits.

Karen Turner commented: “Over the past 13 years of working in the gym here at the Marie Curie Hospice, Hampstead, it has been evident that the benefits of exercising in this environment have effects that go beyond physical improvements. I’ve heard many stories first-hand about how coming to the gym has impacted people living with terminal illness in a very meaningful way.

“What was particularly striking to learn was that, even when people were physically getting worse, they still found many benefits in exercising and that attending the gym enabled them to be actively and positively involved in their own health and wellbeing.”

Dr Adrian Tookman, medical director at the hospice, added: “At the hospice gym, patients interact with other patients, staff and volunteers, and through exercise feel a sense of purpose and achievement. It’s a safe zone where they can feel part of a community that understands what they are going through.

“We have long recommended that our patients use the hospice gym and now we can demonstrate that it’s an intervention that has the potential to really improve their quality of life.

“When people are living with a terminal illness we can help them enjoy a better quality of life. I hope that this study will help demonstrate what modern hospices can achieve.”

For more information this study, download the open access article ‘I am actually doing something to keep well. That feels really good’: Experiences of exercise within hospice care, published in Progress in Palliative Care.

This article originally appeared on the UK edition of ehospice

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