07776 103 785 john@makesportfun.com



Every year in the UK hundreds of millions of pounds is spent on drugs to help prevent and treat cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support has discovered a ‘wonder drug’ with little cost. We now have hard evidence that simple physical activity can significantly help prevent cancer reoccurrence and also other long-term illnesses.

Until recently cancer was seen as something you were either cured of or which killed you. This has now changed and for many of the two million people now living with cancer it has become a long term condition – but they are not necessarily living well.

After treatment, learning to live with cancer is tough. Severe fatigue, depression, or reduced muscle strength can be immediate effects. People may not realise that heart problems and osteoporosis in later life are unfortunate consequences of cancer treatment.

The brief

Make Sport Fun were appointed by Macmillan Cancer Support to find out how to market physical activity programmes to people living with and beyond cancer, specifically the over 50’s, and then to create a proven system for doing that.

The objectives:

Learn what marketing messages and approaches will work for encouraging cancer survivors aged over 50 to start an activity and stay active.

This to include the answers to the following questions

  • What are the main barriers to becoming more active that they face? (so we can help overcome these)
  • Did the activities they want to do change because they had cancer?
  • What are the key benefits of physical activity cancer survivors will respond to?
  • How can this insight be turned into marketing materials which get cancer survivors to do more activity?

What we did

There was already a huge amount of research and experimentation into marketing physical activity to over 50s and also into marketing wider behaviour change to cancer survivors. There were even some existing projects which were successfully marketing physical activity to cancer survivors over 50. We therefore took full advantage of this existing research and built on that.

We looked at several projects which had successfully promoted activity to cancer survivors using different techniques. We examined what worked, and what didn’t work, and used the existing Sport England segments marketing plans (the leading source of insight into how to market to the over 50s). We then pulled together the insight so that Macmillan can be at the cutting edge of promoting activity to cancer survivors.

We took these insights and converted them to a series of promotional concepts which we tested in focus groups.  We focussed on promoting activity to the over 50s, as they’re more likely to get cancer and are less active.

Physical Activity Care Pathway

Once we had tested these promotional concepts in the focus groups we worked with GPs, oncologists and nurses to understand how best to get them to spread those messages to their patients.

We used the Physical Activity Care Pathway to actually test all this out in a Macmillan project in Luton.

Physical Activity Care Pathway

Recruit – the team in Luton used the approach we had developed to work with nurses, oncologists, GPs, chemotherapy departments and support groups to recruit patients who wanted to be more active.

Screen – they screened patients using a validated and concise questionnaire, the GP Physical Activity Questionnaire (GPPAQ).  

Intervene – the Luton team supported patients in becoming more active, using a Motivational Interviewing guiding style which encourages rather than directs and strengthens patient’s intrinsic motivation to change.

Active Participation – patients were offered 12 weeks free activity at the Luton leisure centres, followed by a reduced rate after that.

Review – The Luton team followed up with patients over the next year to help them stay active.


  • We developed some fantastic insights for Macmillan, and have been able to tell them what the most effective messages are, and which ones you shouldn’t use at all
  • We developed a system for how to promote a cancer specific physical activity programme, and template resources for putting that into practice
  • We supported one of Macmillan’s projects in Luton to implement this programme and this allowed them to hit all their marketing targets.

“A fantastic job on developing physical activity marketing insight”

Jo Foster, Physical Activity Manager, Macmillan Cancer Support

Download the full report.