The NHS is hoping a new pre-treatment fitness programme will lead to better odds of survival for thousands of cancer patients.
People who have been diagnosed with the disease are being given the option of entering into a “prehab” regime of three fitness sessions a week, including a mix of high-intensity cardio workouts and strength-based training.
Alongside physical exercise, patients are also able to receive nutritional advice and mental health support – all of which can help reduce the side-effects of chemotherapy and the amount of time spent in hospital, doctors said.
“Cancer treatments now work better than ever, but they can really take a toll on your body,” the NHS’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, said.
“So there’s increasing evidence that it’s really worth trying to get match fit ahead of chemo or major surgery. In effect you are ‘priming’ your own recovery before your treatment even begins.”
More than 500 people in the Greater Manchester area are already participating in the exercise programme, with more than 2,000 expected to take part over the next two years. Similar services are also being run in Yorkshire, Leicester and London.
David Fowles entered into the “prehab” programme this year.
“If someone had told me in February … that I would be going to the gym, I’d have laughed at them,” the 68-year-old retiree said.
“My consultant asked if I would like to give it a go, explaining the idea that if you’re fit before surgery, it will get you out of hospital quicker, so I said yes.
“The surgery was quite daunting and took 10.5 hours. I was told I’d be in hospital for two, three or four weeks. Well, I was out within nine days. I couldn’t believe it. All this is down to the fitness regime – it’s been marvellous.
“I’ve just had a new grandson arrive in February, he’s also inspired me and I want to get better to see him – that’s encouraged me to get moving.”
June Davis, an expert adviser at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Waiting to start cancer treatment can be a hugely anxious and uncertain time.
“While it might seem extraordinary that newly diagnosed patients are being referred to exercise classes and personal trainers, we know that pre-habilitation can support people during this difficult time to prepare both physically and mentally for treatment, reclaim a sense of control and improve their health in the long term.
“It’s fantastic to see that thousands of people across the UK are being referred to and benefiting from these schemes.
“At Macmillan, we want to see pre-habilitation implemented soon after diagnosis, where appropriate, to empower people living with cancer and ensure they get the personalised care they need.”