Exercise for Wellness; Honoring Breast Cancer Warriors & Friends
Fact, people who exercise can and do get cancer. If they didn’t, we might consider exercise a cure. However, it is also true that exercise is therapeutic and an essential element in maintaining wellness across ages and abilities. This is not an article about the "shoulds" but rather, it's more about the "cans" around self care. Take suggestions you like and leave the rest, and always start where you are. That's how we personalize and empower from the heart.
Here are some more facts:
Exercise provides an increase in oxygen to our body and a rush of those feel-good endorphins. It reduces the risk of cardiac disease, helps regulate blood pressure, prevent stroke, strengthens the body, balances hormones, alleviates depression and anxiety symptoms, strengthens bone density, alleviates arthritis, strengthens the musculoskeletal system thereby decreasing risks for falls, alleviates sleep problems, boosts energy and confidence and yet most of us would not place it on our top five favorite things to do.
Besides showing some promise for cancer prevention by boosting immunity, exercise is also recommended for people in recovery. Especially during cancer treatment period, if you are just starting out after a long pause, start slow and build it up. Don’t be disappointed if you cannot go for a long period of time. Deconditioning is a normal phenomenon for everyone of all abilities. Our fitness ability changes as our body adapts to our activity level. the good news is we can also strengthen with movement.
Exercise benefits count on a cumulative basis as well. You can start with a smaller chunk, say 15 minutes, increase your daily steps, incorporate hobbies that involve physical activity such as gardening or dancing and practice stretching in mini sessions throughout the day. This can range from morning and evening 5-10 minute stretches to yoga type exercise sessions that build flexibility and strength. Creating these pockets of time for exercise and movement has the additional effect of aligning posture which is empowering, grounding, and cultivates a deeper connection to our Self . This can feel like a sense of flow, inner calm, a sense of connectedness or awareness. Notice how that feels and hold that memory as
if you are taking a polaroid to tuck away for future reference. Take time to create your own virtual photo album in your mind. Come back to it for motivation as you build habits your body will eventually naturally crave as a nourishing form of self care.
For people recovering from cancer, exercise can improve strength, stamina, mood, and energy, all of which enhance recovery and quality of life. Be sure to consider and/or ask your provider about what types of exercises might best be suited for your recovery to avoid injury. For example it may be best to avoid a gym if you are immunosuppressed and also avoid exercises that may affect surgery recovery. If you experience loss of sensation in your extremities, (peripheral neuropathy) weight bearing exercises that require balance and lifting might be challenging and pose an injury risk. Try a stationary bike or other equipment that minimizes your risk of falling while also giving you a great workout. Ellipticals are also great. All activity counts and safety really matters.
Like the CDC guidelines for all, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends about 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week and 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. That really translates into about 32 minutes of exercise per day- about 11 minutes of vigorous activity and 21 of moderate. This can be broken up or completed in one session so you can be 'done'. Keep it interesting and varied to flex into your schedule and moods. Thinking and feeling into it matters. This is a great way to adapt and craft your personalized schedule. You can get your cardio in with power walking, running, even body weight exercises which can double up for strength training. Strength can also be accomplished with bands and dumbbells, and other
resistance equipment while yoga, barre, pilates, tai chi can help with strength, balance and flexibility. Notice how activities can serve more than one area of your fitness needs and notice how it feels to be engaged. Interval training - that's when we fluctuate between high intensity and low - offers a really good return on time spent. Swimming is a full body exercise known for its therapeutic benefits including increased range of motion, strength building through water resistance, and an all around great way to improve stamina. You don’t have to swim freestyle to enjoy the meditative effects of the water. Switch up activities to experience your body in different ways and notice what you gravitate towards. How does your body respond to certain activities?
If you are friends with a cancer warrior and trying to support or motivate their exercise, remember they may need rest before they can build on stamina. Cancer treatments induce fatigue which can have a compounding effect on the stress and grief around the diagnosis. Hold space for them to respond to their body’s needs whether that means rest or a shorter exercise period. Recognize when motivational companionship becomes a burden by asking them what they want and encouraging them to make their needs known. This communication is essential in supporting our cancer warrior friends.
If you are going through a cancer diagnosis and have had surgery check with your provider on recommended activity levels and ask about physical therapy to rebuild strength, help manage pain, and potentially reduce lymph node swelling. Physical therapists generally discharge with recommended strength building activities though you can also hire a personal trainer if you want to have more of a personalized fitness experience. Having said that, walking is also great and free. If you have or are undergoing radiation therapy treatments, it is especially important to move the affected area to avoid loss of range of motion. Arm raises and stretches along with breathing exercises all keep the area from tightness and aid in recovery. Listen to your body and know when to push through for the invigorating, health promoting effects of exercise. Recovery takes time.
Home fitness exercise ideas with key words for easy lookup:
Stretching/yoga; toe touches/twists/side bends/ hip flexor opener for flexibility and strength.
Bodyweight exercises; squats / lunges to strengthen larger muscle groups and posture.
Walking/power walking/running/dance for cardio.
Stationary bike/elliptical/treadmill; cardio & endurance.
Weights; Dumbbell strength.
Movement promotes connection to the body, a sense of empowerment, and promotes healing. Try breathing consciously and notice how much of our daily breathing is involuntary and shallow. So much of our time during the day is spent in our minds. Yet, a response to noticing our breathing is to immediately alter it somehow. Play with different sensations around breathing and notice how that feels from inside.
Friends of cancer warriors: ask them what they need and how you can support them in general. Offer direct helpful suggestions and invite them to modify or reject your proposal as opposed to having to come up with one for you. With relation to exercise, ask if they would like support with movement to promote wellness but do so with care as this can be triggering. Support can simply be accompanying them for motivation and enjoyment. You may want to get your own workout in ahead of time and simply benefit from extra movement with your friend during you time together. Letting them set the pace this way can take away stress or guilt surrounding exercise time expectations.
For everyone, notice if you enjoy exercising alone or with company, early morning or later in the day, altogether or during intervals throughout the day. Notice what types of exercise you enjoy most and choose those on days when exercise interest may be lower. Continue to create more memories of yourself feeling good after exercise and movement to help absorb the restorative effects while reinforcing movement as a form of essential support for your body, mind and heart. This practice will build consistency, wellness, and confidence over time.
Exercise and conscious movement in general enables us to connect to our body with our heart. Enjoy a sense of calm, connectedness to your self, and confidence as your practice strengthens. This connecting from within fosters sustainable change because needs are nourished authentically in ways that don't create guilt. That's the secret to movement motivation that comes from within.
In honor of breast cancer awareness month and all women fighting cancer, as well as those of us touched by them, may we soon find a cure.
May you be well.
TheresaWV blends healthy lifestyle with embodiment practices to make self-care intuitive for lasting, sustainable results so you can stop yoyo fitness & dieting and move onto the other things on your list. She helps clients find their unique path to feeling nourished through mind-body work that includes movement and IFS (Internal Family Systems). She is a Level 3 Certified Practitioner, a certified personal trainer (NASM CPT CES), also incorporating MBSR principles for wellness. For more information or to schedule a consultation please click the link below or email Theresa@altraform.com or call 860-421-3971. Flexible scheduling for private teleconferencing via zoom. Also available via doxy.me