What motivates people with cancer to get active?


Session type:


Justin Webb1,Georgina Smerald1,Jon Ardill1
1Macmillan Cancer Support



Physical activity can have a positive impact on people living with cancer (PLWC) at all stages of the disease but many are not as active as they could be. This research investigated and measured the factors that affect individuals’ activity levels.


The project started with a rapid evidence review. The qualitative stage included 20 face to face interviews with PLWC and those close to them; 22 mobile ethnographies capturing ‘in the moment’ thoughts and experience; and an online discussion group. A survey of 1,011 PLWC provided further insight into their behaviours and the extent and prevalence of the factors that can influence them.


Healthcare professionals play a pivotal role in helping PLWC to become more active. Despite this, a significant proportion of plwc had not received physical activity advice from their healthcare professional. Other factors that are particularly pertinent to PLWC include managing fatigue, the existence of co-morbidities, their personal response to cancer and the extent to which their social support needs are met.

When PLWC have motivators and barriers that are experienced in common with other members of the public, these can often take on a significant meaning. Motivators in this category include spending time with family/ friends, increased quality of life, proving ‘you still can’, and staying fit and healthy; while key barriers include a lack of confidence, lack of motivation, embarrassment, fear, and family commitments. In addition, PLWC do not associate some activities such as walking the dog as being physically active. This means they may focus on sports at the expense of other methods of being active that might better meet their needs and/or interests.


The research has increased the understanding of the motivators and barriers that affect PLWC. It is currently supporting and informing the development of behaviour change interventions by Macmillan’s Physical Activity Team.