Exercise and cancer

Exercise – the great reboot

December 1, 2023 Word for Word Media 0Comment

Sandra Bollen-Hughes explains that exercise is the secret to the great reboot and will ultimately help with fatigue.

You can listen to this article below, or by using your favourite podcast player at pod.link/oncologybuddies

It has always mystified me that when a technological item gives trouble, that sometimes the simple act of turning it off and turning it back on again can rectify a whole range of annoying malfunctions. I know I’m giving you all a quick glimpse into the foggy recesses of my brain where I try to process how computers actually work, but this one always floors me.

To a person who grew up with telephones that had to plug into a wired-up circuit, and music was played by a needle on a round, turning piece of plastic with visible grooves in it, this self-correction capacity makes absolutely no sense. But I do like it! It’s so comforting to think, “Maybe if I just switch it off and on again…”

What is amazing, is that the body has a built-in natural reboot system. And the body takes the mind with it. That beautiful thing called sleep. The equivalent of rebooting your system, both physically and mentally. Psychologists are very aware that a person who is sleep deprived may exhibit difficulties with decision-making and problem-solving. A tired person battles to control emotions and cope with change. Sleep deficiency has even been linked to depression and suicide. This reminds us that the body and mind are inextricably intertwined and finely-tuned machines and ideally should not be driven outside of your speed and distance limits.

Unremitting fatigue

We know that the treatments available for cancer often result in high levels of fatigue as well as disturbance of sleep. Difficulties in sleeping can range from insomnia, through poor quality of sleep, through hypersomnia, and daytime sleepiness. Research into the medical causes of this is highly complex and multi-faceted, with both physiological and emotional causes being identified as contributing factors. Attempts are ongoing to understand this problem and assist patients to return to good sleep patterns and improved energy levels.

The warrior reboot button

So, how does a cancer warrior reboot? Most of us hit the bed when we can and carry on when we must. But we also are aware that maybe a more structured approach could be a better solution for us. Cancer warriors know that sleeping doesn’t always have the reboot capacity that it had prior to diagnosis and treatment. So, what else?

You guessed it: exercise. Exercise can often be the very thing you need, despite it feeling like the last thing you want or need. You don’t want to exercise when you are tired, right? However, a study1found that maintaining an exercise programme of moderate intensity, individualised to the patient’s specific needs, reduced their fatigue significantly both during and after cancer treatment. Okay, you may not like to hear it, but keeping up a reasonable exercise routine may be your new reboot button.

Holiday camp reboot

So, here’s the challenge: to recognise that the thing you need is the last thing you want. As a therapist, I can only shrug and say, “Well, how often is that true in life?”

The challenges you face nearly always require you to submit to the discipline and the struggle to reap the rewards. I know how tough this is! I’m not speaking to you from a finish line to spur you on. I’m still bumbling along in this myself, six years down and still trying. But I want to wish you all a mental reboot this holiday season. May you remember to value yourself and your health and your families and your friends enough to know that it will be worth it. Know that your struggle to start to push your body again, within reasonable limits, despite it crying out from fatigue may be the answer to reboot and to start the healing cycle for yourself. Let’s all put our boots on. Let’s reboot together.

Sandra Bollen Hughes

MEET THE EXPERT – Sandra Bollen-Hughes

Sandra Bollen-Hughes is a counselling psychologist. In 2015 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and realised the great burden of stress that cancer places on patients and so she developed an interest in cancer counselling. She went on to study cancer counselling to gather insight into the field of psycho-oncology. She runs a practice both for general and cancer counselling.


  1. Schneider CM, Hsieh CC, Sprod LK, Carter SD, Hayward R. 2007. Effects of supervised exercise training on cardiopulmonary function and fatigue in breast cancer survivors during and after treatment. Cancer110:918–925 [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
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