Can people with cancer go swimming?

Older man swimmingSwimming is a great form of physical activity and is suitable for many people during and after cancer treatment.

What are the benefits of swimming?

As with other forms of physical activity, swimming is great for our health – physically and mentally.

  • It can improve mood, self-esteem and sleep.
  • It can reduce stress.
  • It can help us relax as the water provides a soothing and calming effect.

As the water supports your body weight, it’s especially beneficial for people who suffer from bone, joint and muscle pain or discomfort.

Swimming uses a lot of different muscles in the upper and lower body, and as such is often considered a full-body exercise. It’s a great way to improve muscle tone, strength and fitness.

If I’m going through cancer, is swimming safe?

We know that physical activity such as swimming can help manage some of the side-effects of cancer and treatment, such as helping to manage pain and fatigue.

However, if you’re going through chemotherapy, you may be advised to avoid swimming because chemotherapy affects your immune system (certain cancers can also affect your immune system). This can mean your body is less able to fight infection, which may make you more susceptible to germs in the water.

If you’re going through radiotherapy, this can cause skin changes that may be irritated by chlorine in the water.

Getting started

Depending on where you are with your treatment, we advise that you check with your doctor first to make sure the activity is suitable for you.

If you’re given the go-ahead, start gently and gradually build up how much you do.

If you aren’t able to swim a full length, build up your fitness by walking from one side of the shallow end to the other a couple of times.

Or you could hold on to the side of the pool and alternate lifting one knee up at a time (going as fast as is comfortable for you) for sessions of 10 seconds – the resistance of the water is a great way to  strengthen your leg muscles. This is a great movement to do, especially on days when you may feel more fatigued.

If you want to feel more confident in the water, many leisure centres offer a range of adult swimming lessons.

For an extra push, you may want to try a water aerobics class – something that many pools offer. Just make sure you book a class that suits your level of fitness.

What if I feel self-conscious about swimwear?

Remember you’re not alone. Many people have similar anxieties about their bodies. You could look for female- or male-only swimming sessions.

There are also a range of swimming T-shirts available to help you feel more comfortable. You could also find out from reception when the quiet times are if you prefer to exercise when there are fewer people around.