I am in my seventies and have recently had an operation for cancer of the womb. Currently I am having radiotherapy and although I am not feeling unwell, I feel some kind of exercise routine might help me to gain strength once the radiotherapy has finished. Can you advise?
You are right to think that exercise can help speed your recovery. You can start immediately with a gentle and gradually increasing walking routine. Aim to walk every day for as long as you can manage – even if that’s just a few minutes at a time. See if you can do two or three short walks a day, so that the total amount starts to add up. As you get stronger, you can keep going for a little longer.
It’s really helpful to keep a simple record of your walk times. That way you can see your progress and set your next week’s goals by adding on a couple of minutes. When you get to 30 minutes daily with no problem, you will know you are well on the road to recovery – but don’t sop there, aim for an hour a day of brisk walking.
An important caution, however. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t meet your targets every day. Cancer, notoriously, makes people feel very up and down from one day to the next. Even if (hopefully) you are clear of the cancer, your body will still be recovering from the onslaught of surgery, anaesthetic and radiotherapy, all of which can leave you feeling exhausted for months afterwards.
On the bad days set aside your target, and just do a small, gentle walk instead – outdoors, if possible. One of the best effects of outdoor walking is that it helps lift our mood. This alone is enough to make us feel more energetic.
Physically the walking will help to clear remaining traces of anaesthetic from your body, and by strengthening your heart muscle and lungs, will improve your oxygen efficiency. This will boost your energy levels and overall fitness – as well as speeding the healing of wounds from your surgery.
Once you have finished the radiotherapy, and after checking with your GP, consider joining a general community exercise class for seniors – this might be a circuit class, tai chi or even something like line dancing. All these kinds of activity – provided they are run by a suitably qualified instructor – will help you regain lost muscle strength and balance.
Finally you should definitely work on strengthening your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, as these have probably been seriously weakened by the operation. Start now with pelvic floor exercises, in which you suck up your pelvic floor and hold the contraction, making sure you are still breathing normally, for up to a minute before letting go. The muscle pull is the same as trying to stop yourself from going to the loo, and you can practice this movement standing, sitting or lying down, as many times a day as you remember.