Digital health: empowering people affected by cancer

Studies highlight the importance of physical activity for those living with and beyond cancer

In our earlier blog post ‘Being physically active’ we highlighted the well documented benefits of physical activity and its role to support long term conditions such as type 2 diabetes, chronic respiratory problems and coronary heart disease.

As well as supporting these conditions, studies highlight the importance of being physical activity for people affected by cancer.

Physical activity for those living with and beyond cancer

Studies conducted by Macmillan Cancer Support state that ‘physical activity is important for cancer patients at all stages of the care pathway’.

Research has shown that physical activity after treatment for cancer can reduce the impact of some debilitating side effects such as fatigue, depression and anxiety.

Health professionals have described physical activity as an underrated ‘wonder drug’.

people running

While people living with and beyond cancer should gradually build up their physical activity level, the evidence shows that if a physical activity programme is tailored specifically to an individual’s needs, it is more likely to have a positive impact.

The American College of Sports Medicine roundtable on exercise guidelines for cancer survivors states that, ‘exercise is safe both during and after cancer treatment. Patients are advised to avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after surgery, and during adjuvant cancer treatments.’ They also highlight that the ‘standard age appropriate guidelines are also appropriate for cancer patients.’

Despite the benefits of physical activity, only 23% of people living with cancer are active to recommended levels.


”Move More” with Macmillan Cancer Support

There are various programmes that aim at helping cancer patients to include physical activities into their daily life.

A great example in the UK is Macmillan Cancer Support’s ‘Move More’ programme which offers a broad range of services such as group exercise classes and walking groups for people living with and after cancer.

Additionally, it provides advice and tools on how to safely become more physically active during and after treatment.

Walker and close-up on walking boots

The management of ageing populations, chronic diseases and lifestyle-related illnesses such as cancer and diabetes are becoming an increasing problem for the NHS and Health Care Charities.

However, digital technologies can play an important role in supporting self-management and providing healthcare services conveniently, safely and cost effectively.

Macmillan calls for a ‘clear need for mechanisms within the cancer care pathway to support patients in maintaining or initiating physical activity during and after treatment.’

Using digital health to fight side effects of cancer treatments

Programmes such as Macmillan’s “Move More” can become even more effective when making use of digital health applications.

Digital technology can enable patients to take an active part in managing their condition by making them more aware of their physical activity levels which, in turn, can have significant benefits on their health and well-being.

One example of a digital health application is Get Active designed by Storm Health: Users can track their movement and sleep through wearable and mobile technology, which helps them understand the effects their physical activity has after a cancer diagnosis.

The Get Active service has been adopted by Paths for All, the Scottish walking charity that works in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support and their “Move More” programme. The service will be implemented in order to support people when living with and beyond a cancer diagnosis to become more physically active.

fitbit user on smart phone

Two Macmillan “Move More” regions in Aberdeen and Edinburgh will be responsible for implementing the Get Active service as a one-year pilot.  The Move More Get Active service will be made available to all referrals that are either new to the programme or are already taking part.

Health and social care professionals can also access the information through cloud-hosted software to set activity targets and remotely monitor activity levels for new and existing patients.

Emma Berry, Senior Development Officer, Paths for All, said:

"Leading a physically active lifestyle both during and after cancer is linked to an improvement in many of its adverse effects and its treatments.  Physical activity helps overcome fatigue, anxiety and depression whilst protecting the heart, lungs and bones. Physical activity is often referred to as a wonder drug and the evidence for cancer is significant."

The new ‘Move More Get Active’ service will allow Paths for All to enhance the existing offering to the national Move More Scotland programme. Participants will be able to access a digital physical activity service to further monitor and improve their physical activity levels in a safe and supported way.