How an exercise programme is helping patients at the Marie Curie Hospice, Belfast

by Kerry McGrillen
Physiotherapist, Marie Curie Hospice, Belfast


Research shows that physical activity in palliative care has the potential to improve symptoms, including tiredness, pain, weak muscles and poor physical functioning.

The Marie Curie Hospice, Belfast, with funding support from Sport Northern Ireland, launched an outpatient exercise programme specifically designed for patients with a palliative diagnosis.

The exercise programme

The programme was tailored to each patient and lasted for 10 weeks in the new gym at the hospice, under the instruction and supervision of a physiotherapist. The programme included exercises to strengthen the arms and legs and to improve balance and cardiovascular fitness.

Patients were also encouraged to complete a home-based programme and exercise diary that focused on gradually building up physical activity in line with the guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine and the Department of Health. These guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity a week and muscle strengthening targeting all the major muscle groups.

When they finished the programme, patients completed the same assessments of strength, fitness, fatigue and quality of life that they had completed before participating

Did it work?

14 patients had completed the programme and final assessment for this evaluation, and the results collected demonstrated significant improvements in strength, fitness, fatigue and quality of life. Comments and feedback from the patients was positive:
"I learnt I needed to control my fatigue and not let it control me"

"I gained in confidence and self-esteem"

"I can’t believe how much I am able to do now"

The results of this evaluation (albeit with a small number of palliative care patients) are encouraging and contribute to existing evidence that structured exercise programmes can improve physical functioning and wellbeing and reduce fatigue in the palliative care setting.

The research will appear in the Progress in Palliative Care journal. You can read the abstract here.