Newly-diagnosed cancer patients are to be offered NHS gym sessions before they start chemotherapy, in the hope of boosting the speed of their recovery.
Thousands will be invited to sign up for a “prehab” fitness programme within 48 hours of being diagnosed.
The aim is to make patients “match fit” ahead of chemotherapy or major surgery.
Experts hope a regime of three fitness sessions a week will reduce the time patients spend in hospital by “priming” them for their recovery.
A mix of high intensity cardio workouts and strength-based training, plus nutritional advice and mental health support, will be made available.
Although patients would be referred for “prehab” within 48 hours of their diagnosis, the start date for the fitness plan may vary on a case by case basis following consultation with a doctor.
More than 500 patients are already taking part in the exercise programme in Greater Manchester, while another 2,000 are expected to participate over the next two years.
Similar services are being run in London, Leicester and Yorkshire.
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said cancer treatments can take a “toll” on the body, despite working “better than ever”.
“There’s increasing evidence that it’s really worth trying to get match fit ahead of chemo or major surgery,” he added.
“In effect you are ‘priming’ your own recovery before your treatment even begins.”
Patient David Fowles entered the “prehab” programme earlier this year ahead of his 10.5-hour surgery.
Mr Fowles said: “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.
“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 added.
The BBC spoke to patients at Wrexham Maelor Hospital last month who had taken part in “prehab” trial sessions.
One patient, 77-year-old Allen Prescott, had surgery following a bowel cancer diagnosis. His wife credits the scheme with his recovery.
June Davis, an adviser at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “While it might seem extraordinary that newly-diagnosed patients are being referred to exercise classes and personal trainers, we know that prehabilitation 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.