Last month, NCCN released guidelines for post-treatment survivorship care. In this week’s blog post we tackle exercise, one of the eight areas addressed in the guidelines. Studies have shown that exercise is beneficial for cancer survivors and can help build strength and reduce risk of recurrence. However, many survivors are unsure when they can or should resume normal activity or how to even bring up the topic with their doctor.
I too heard the dreaded words, “You have cancer.” At first my life and my dreams all flashed through my mind. I have always been physically active since a child and was running marathons, road biking, and weight training at the time of my diagnosis. I was worried about the side effects of cancer treatment. The most troubling side effects for me were loss of functional capacity and fatigue, perhaps even depression (How the heck can I continue? I thought). What did I do? I ran, I biked, I did exercises to improve muscle mass and enhance my strength and balance. As my radiation treatments grew in number, I cut back my workout intensity and duration. My normal routine went to half, and then even a quarter towards the end of cancer treatment.
No matter what your day brings, you can find time to do a little bit of exercise. For example, my radiation technicians told me they didn’t have time to exercise, so while I was getting ready for my session, I made them do 10 push-ups. Each day I would choose another simple exercise. Exercise comes in many forms. Doing a few arm curls with two cans of peas counts if that’s all the energy you have that day. Other simple exercises might include:
- standing up and down in a chair 5 times
- reaching up towards the sky with one or both arms
- holding cans of peas over your head as long as you can
- walking to your mailbox and then a little more if you physically can
From the most sedentary individual to an extraordinary athlete, we can all do something physical. Exercise arms us with another tool to combat the effects of cancer treatment! One little secret though, I did rest every single day for one hour, whether I slept or just quieted my mind. By the end of my treatments, I had not let cancer beat me. My quality of life was still the same, affected of course, but my mind, body, and spirit were in superior shape.
The general recommendations for exercise include an overall weekly volume of 75-150 minutes of exercise, depending on intensity, as well as two to three weekly sessions of strength training that include major muscle groups. However, we are not a “one size fits all” package when it comes to exercise whether we have cancer or not.
Be sure to tell your doctor you are going to exercise and ask for advice. Your physician can help determine your ability to exercise by looking at your history, and assessing factors that might impede physical activity.
Think of exercise as part of your treatment before, during, and after. You have the will and there is a way!
Author: Liz Leedle
Bio: Liz Leedle, Masters of Science: Wellness and Fitness (July/13); National Academy Sports Medicine – “NASM”: Certified Personal Trainer, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Women’s Fitness Specialist, ASFE: Kettlebell Training, and, ZUMBA.