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Training through Cancer

09/01/2015 11:05PM ● Published by Paul Hunter

Cancer is a tough word.  For our parents and grandparents, it meant a certain unfortunate outcome.  Fortunately, research into this deadly disease has brought forth new therapies and greater outcomes of survival.  One area where work has increased and shown us some light is in the area of exercise for the cancer patient and survivor.  

In the past, clinicians have advised patients to “take it easy,” avoiding any unnecessary exertion or activity.  Fortunately, current research has shown the opposite may be what we are looking for.

New recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world, were presented at its 57th Annual Meeting in Baltimore.  “We’re seeing better everyday function and overall higher quality of life for cancer survivors who exercise,” said Kathryn Schmitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., FACSM, lead author of the cancer recommendations and presenter at the ACSM Annual Meeting. She is an associate professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and a member of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Among its conclusions, the roundtable consensus statement says that:

• To the extent they are able, cancer patients and survivors should adhere to the 2008 federal government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG), which recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. In general, these guidelines (which are grouped into different age categories) are appropriate for cancer survivors. In particular, the first two words of those guidelines are relevant to cancer survivors during and after treatment: Avoid inactivity.

• Clinicians should advise cancer survivors to avoid inactivity, even patients with existing disease or who are undergoing difficult treatments.

• Exercise recommendations should be tailored to the individual cancer survivor to account for exercise tolerance and specific diagnosis. For example, cancer patients with weakened bones may be advised to avoid heavy weight-training in order to avoid fractures.


• Clinicians and fitness professionals should pay close attention to cancer survivors’ responses to physical activity in order to safely progress exercise programs and avoid injuries.

• Although more research should be done on the effects of strength training on cancer survivors, the practice generally appears to be beneficial.

The roundtable statement also recommends certain alterations to the PAG for specific types of cancer: breast, prostate, colon, and hematologic (blood or bone marrow). Schmitz says exercise provides benefits to cancer survivors beyond the physical, too.

“In preliminary observations, breast cancer survivors experienced improved body image as a result of a regular physical activity program,” she said. “Add that to improved aerobic fitness and strength, decreased fatigue, and increased quality of life, and exercise proves to be a crucial part of recovery for cancer survivors.”

As a personal trainer and cancer survivor, I had this engrained into me prior to my diagnosis.  I knew that movement was good for my body even without a specific team of researchers telling me so.  What I learned was I was not able to do what I could do prior to treatments.  As we go through challenges, whether physical, mental or spiritual, we must face them and also do those things which strengthen us.  

Pacing was important.  I stopped running everywhere I went and walked instead.  Running even 20 yards would put me into bed for the remainder of the day.  Walking was slower and allowed me to maintain my albeit lower energy throughout the day.  Yes, there is a new, temporary you that you need to get to know, and much of it is learning that you can’t and shouldn’t do as much as you were, while still remembering your body is designed to move even a little if that is all you have.  

If you can walk from your side of the bed to the other side, great.  Now try walking back to where you began.  The next day, go a little farther, then farther.  Until you try, you will never know.  As the guidelines suggest, each person is different due to prior conditions, age, preparedness - physically, mentally and spiritually, diagnosis, treatment and support system.  If you are not sure where to begin, please ask for assistance.  

These recommendations by the ACSM are for cancer; however, the mindset can be utilized in other areas of your life that may be challenging you.  If you have read this far, you are either a survivor yourself, know of a survivor or one day will be in one of those two categories.  Start now and you will be ahead of the game when a challenge arises.  

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Health+Fitness, Today, Today Cancer American College of Sports Medicine Kathryn Schmitz, PhD Abramson Cancer Clinic University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine Physical Activity GUidlines Excercise Ill

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