What Activity Can Give to Survivors: Advice from a Trainer

Today’s issue of Cancer Research Update highlights the latest research in how exercise helps cancer survivors. We asked Mary, an exercise physiologist and AICR consultant, to share her experiences in working with cancer survivors.

I taught a strength training class for cancer survivors for several years. That experience allowed me to see first-hand the incredibly important role exercise plays in the healing process. My class was open to survivors of all ages and ability levels, though most were new to strength training when they started. Over the weeks and months of class, I saw a transformation in every person—both physically and emotionally.

Physically, the participants grew to trust their body again. Many showed up the first time afraid of pushing too hard or doing something that might derail their recovery. Many were also battling fatigue and were afraid of feeling even more tired. But we started slowly, sometimes with stretches or without using weights. By the end of the first class, most were surprised and proud of how much they were able to do, and more importantly how good it made them feel. As their physical fitness improved, so did their strength, confidence, and overall happiness.

The emotional transformation of the participants was equally dramatic. A cancer diagnosis is frightening and can leave people feeling isolated. The class offered a venue with an unspoken understanding and acceptance of those feelings. Participants were able to talk freely about how they were feeling and what they were going through. They formed emotional connections as they worked to make their bodies more fit and strong.

If your doctor has given you the go-ahead to start exercising, I have two pieces of advice:

1. Just do it! Without a doubt, exercise is one of the best things you can do to help you through life after treatment. Don’t focus on what you can’t do, just commit to doing something. Start off slowly and listen to your body; you will be amazed at how good it will make you feel.

2. Find the support you need. There is not a one size fits all way to get active. You may want to do it alone, with the guidance of a book or video. Or you might want the support of others. Be honest with yourself and find the resources you need to be successful.

Mary demonstrates simple exercises for breast cancer survivors in this video: Exercise for Breast Cancer Survivors.

Mary Kennedy, MS, is an exercise physiologist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.


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