Exercise & Rest

Exercise can improve strength, fitness, mood and general wellbeing. But exercise isn’t always straightforward when you have a brain tumour.


There is evidence to show that exercise can help your body to work at its best when you are living with a brain tumour[1]. Exercise can improve strength, fitness, mood and general wellbeing. But exercise isn’t always straightforward when you have a brain tumour. The brain controls voluntary movement, balance and gait, all essential elements of physical activity. When the brain’s occipital lobe is affected, some vision can be lost as well, making mobility more difficult. In addition, therapies can cause fatigue, dizziness, weakness and lack of balance, making the situation worse. And long-term use of steroids, which may be given to counteract chemotherapy side-effects, also cause muscle wasting. So exercise may be particularly difficult for some people living with a brain tumour. Equally though, exercise may bring the greatest benefit. The most important thing is to do what works for you. Walking is easy to build into daily activity. Others choose yoga, Tai Chi, cycling, swimming or dance classes like Zumba.

If balance is a problem, exercises can be done whilst sitting down. Or practice standing while lightly holding on to a kitchen worktop or heavy piece of furniture. Let go of it intermittently, but stay close enough so you can grab onto it again if you need it.

Movement is more effective than standing still. For instance, it’s generally better to raise yourself up and down on your heels repeatedly, rather than to practice balancing on one leg.

Exercise in short sessions for three to five minutes a few times a day, rather than longer single sessions.

Add gentle stretching exercises to your regimen. Yoga is great for building strength and for relaxation.

The easiest, cheapest form of exercise is going for a walk. The payback is huge, but pace yourself. If you haven’t been for a walk for a while, set a realistic goal of five minutes, gradually increasing the time until you are walking for thirty minutes. Walking will help you to:

  • maintain a healthy weight
  • increase your energy levels
  • prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
  • strengthen your bones and muscles
  • improve your mood

improve your balance and coordination

[1] Ruden, E. et al. (2011). Exercise behavior, functional capacity, and survival in adults with malignant recurrent glioma. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 29(21), pp. 2918–2923


The antithesis of exercise. What does rest look like for you? It means different things for different people and is never a case of one size fits all. Rest is important. It stops you getting to the point of exhaustion so that you have to stop what you are doing, regardless of what you are doing. Planning for rest is a critical part of managing your condition. By planning your activities, you can plan to rest too. Only you know what type of rest break works for you, for how long and when. It could be:

  • a few short rests, or power naps
  • one longer rest at the same time each day
  • resting between activities.

Try not to nap after 3 p.m. and only nap for up to twenty minutes. The quality of rest is key though. Try to make your rest as complete as possible. This means aiming to switch of your mind and body and, more importantly, asking those around you to understand how valuable this time is for you. You need to be quiet and undisturbed.

Did this information make you feel more resourced, more confident or more in control?