Editor’s Note: As we enter fall, we also enter into Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer, Testicular Cancer and Pancreatic Cancer awareness activities. To help those currently fighting any form of cancer, we invited the YMCA of the Fox Cities to share how LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a research-based physical activity and well-being program, helps adult cancer survivors achieve their holistic health goals.
In my work, I’ve become all too familiar with the battles facing someone diagnosed with cancer, and the effects that treatment can have on the body. But, I firmly believe that physical activity is not only beneficial to gaining your strength after treatment but being active during treatment can help you thrive. I’ve tackled some of the more frequent questions I get from participants in this blog. Before beginning any type of exercise regimen, it is important to consult your health care provider.
Q. Is it ok to exercise during cancer treatment?
A. Absolutely! According to research conducted by the Mayo Clinic, “Exercise can be one of your most important cancer treatments. Starting — or maintaining — an exercise program can empower you to move out of a more passive “patient” role; it’ll help improve not just your well-being but your attitude, too.” (Mayo Clinic, 2019).
I recommend exercising as tolerated. Someone that was an avid runner prior to starting treatment may find that they need to back off the intensity or modify their workouts. You may find that you are not as strong immediately following a treatment but may be able to get up and move several days later. This is completely normal. The most important thing is to listen to your body. If you feel good and your body is doing ok, staying active will make you stronger, even during treatment.
Q. What type of exercise is best?
A. This is completely up to the individual. Cardio, strength, yoga… each of these activities are beneficial in their own way. Just like being active prior to a diagnosis, you must find an activity that you enjoy. Keep it simple and enjoyable.
According to the American Cancer Society, “To make your exercise effort most effective, it’s important that you work your heart. If you get short of breath or very tired, rest for a few seconds, and start exercising again as you are able. When you first start, the goal is to exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time. Go slow at first, and over the next few weeks, increase the length of time you exercise.” (The American Cancer Society , 2014)
Q. What are the benefits of exercise during treatment?
A. While the physical results such as increased strength and energy are essential, the underlying effects on a patient’s mental health might be one of the greatest advantages. Staying active during and after treatment will help reduce anxiety and depression and increase your feeling of self-worth. Additionally, these benefits combined are going to greatly reduce your level of fatigue and pain during and post-treatment.
In addition to these benefits, The American Cancer Society provides a full list of ways exercise may help during treatment including:
- Improve balance, lower risk of falls and broken bones
- Keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity
- Lower the risk of heart disease
- Lessen the risk of osteoporosis (weak bones that are more likely to break)
- Improve blood flow to your legs and lower the risk of blood clots
- Make you less dependent on others for help with normal activities of daily living
- Lessen nausea
- Improve your ability to keep social contacts
- Lessen symptoms of tiredness (fatigue)
- Help you control your weight
- Improve your quality of life (The American Cancer Society , 2014)
Q. What exercise guidelines should an individual follow?
A. Before doing anything, consult with your health care provider. Your level of activity will depend greatly on the type of cancer you have, the stage of cancer, your treatment, as well as your activity level prior to diagnosis. As I mentioned before, the most important thing you can do is listen to your body. If you are feeling fatigued or nauseous, take a break and give your body some time to recover, especially in the days immediately following a treatment.
Another great tip is to meet with and/or train with a professional who specializes in working with cancer patients. Not only can you get a guided workout routine that can be flexible depending on your level of energy during any given day, this is a great way to stay motivated at each stage of treatment and beyond.
Finding a balance between rest and activity can be difficult at first, but if you develop good communication with your health care team, and you listen to your body, you will see that staying active during and after cancer treatment is helpful physically, mentally and emotionally.
For more information on LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, visit the YMCA of the Fox Cities website at ymcafoxcities.org/livestrong.
About the author: Susan Christel is the Health and Wellness Director at the Neenah-Menasha YMCA. She has been a certified LIVESTRONG at the YMCA instructor and supervisor since its inception in 2011. She has been in the fitness industry and a runner for over 30 years, completing 3 half marathons. Susan is committed to teaching and motivating people to be the best they can be through the various aspects of fitness: body, mind and spirit.
- Mayo Clinic. (2019, June 11). Your secret weapon during cancer treatment? Exercise! Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/secret-weapon-during-cancer-treatment-exercise/art-20457584#:~:text=Exercise%20benefits,Increased%20energy%20and%20strength
- The American Cancer Society . (2014, March 24). Physical activity and the cancer patient. Retrieved from American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/physical-activity-and-the-cancer-patient.html