Promoting wellbeing through exercise in our hospices

Karen Turner, a physiotherapist at the Marie Curie Hospice, Hampstead, supports people living with a terminal illness in making the most of the gym facilities at the hospice.

Hospice physical therapy

When I tell people that I’m a physiotherapist in a hospice, they are often surprised to hear that physiotherapists have a role to play in this setting. The hospice has its own gym and pool, which is used by the people we care for here. Through my work I’ve seen the benefits that exercise in a supervised environment can bring to people living with terminal illness.

Impact on emotional wellbeing

The hospice’s medical director, Dr Adrian Tookman, was the first to advocate a gym in the hospice around 18 years ago; the kind of facilities which have seen become recognised as an important element of a hospice environment. Research on the positive impact of attending the gym often focuses on the physical benefits of exercise, rather than the impact on a person’s emotional and social wellbeing.

During my own research   in this field, I spoke to nine patients with advanced stage cancer who regularly used the hospice gym. I wanted to understand whether their participation in exercise programmes had affected their quality of life.

I am actually doing something to keep well. That feels really good in the situation where cancer makes you feel very powerless because it’s out of your control.
Diana*, aged 55, living with metastatic lung cancer

The findings were so eye-opening. Patients reported that attending a supervised gym has a positive impact on them physically, alongside helping to boost their independence. It also gives the patients a psychological boost and a great sense of achievement from attending. 

Renewed confidence

The people I interviewed felt that by coming to the gym they were able to reclaim some control, giving them renewed confidence and hope for the future. They valued the group camaraderie and the inspiration they gained from exercising with those around them.

What was particularly striking to learn was that even when people were physically at their lowest, they still found that exercising enabled them to be actively involved in their health and wellbeing.

I hope that this research will be used to highlight the value of exercise in enhancing quality of life for people with advanced cancer. I believe that we should be challenged to consider the positive holistic benefits of supervised exercise, even amongst those whose conditions are deteriorating.

Everyone is in the same boat, all trying to get your limbs to work, and that’s what I really, really like about it. I live alone and it gets you out and it gets you meeting people.
Jenny*, aged 57, living with metastatic breast cancer

* Participant names have been published using pseudonyms.