Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It's Not About the 6-Pack: Fitness for Cancer Patients

Recently I had the opportunity to meet Melanie Bowen, a Masters student who has researched alternative nutritional, emotional and physical treatments on those diagnosed with cancer or other serious illnesses. Some of her research relates to fitness and how it can produce better outcomes in cancer patients.

Two weeks before I graduated high school, my mom was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). One thing she said during her illness has stuck with me to this day. One day in the hospital she said, "If I ever would have known that there was anything in my life I could've done to prevent getting this disease, I would have done it hands down."

Disney Princess Half Marathon 2011 - Race Beneficiary: LLS

Now, Mom was a healthy, active person, and unfortunately we don't know what causes AML, but we  do know that obesity is a significant risk factor for multiple types of cancer. In a 2007 NCI study, it was estimated that over 84,000 new cancer cases were diagnosed due to obesity. That's 84,000 moms, dads, spouses, friends, who received this earth-shattering diagnosis because of something that is absolutely preventable. This is the driving factor behind my work as a fitness coach - to prevent one person from losing their loved one too soon.

Through Melanie's research, she has found several factors and considerations for how and why fitness can be an important factor in preventing and navigating a cancer diagnosis:

1. Prevention - physical activity may remove carcinogenic toxins from the blood, effectively managing blood sugar levels and maintaining a healthy blood pressure, protecting the heart.

2. Coping with stress - exercise is known to boost the mood and increase a person's ability to cope. Cancer treatments also wreak havoc physically, and staying active can help flush toxins through the body and allow medications to spread through the blood stream more quickly. It also helps fight fatigue and nausea - common side effects of cancer treatments.

3. Modifications - a disease or treatment may require a change in fitness regimen. Adjust for both comfort and enjoyment. Consider yoga, swimming or cycling for an aerobic workout that's gentle on joints.

4. Remission - once in remission, regular exercise can reduce the risk of recurrence. What a great time to celebrate and take full advantage of a new, healthy lifestyle!  Many communities offer fitness programs specifically for those in remission.

*For more on this topic from Melanie, please visit her site.*

So, you see, "this fitness thing" isn't just for muscle-bound men taking 50 different supplements and lifting 50-lb dumbbells. It's not just for cute, petite little Kelly Ripa lookalikes decked out in Lululemon. Fitness is for every BODY, and it just might save your life.

If you've seen Randy Pausch's Last Lecture, you know about "head fakes" - when he says the lecture wasn't for the audience...it was for his kids. So here's my head fake: Fitness isn't about the 6-pack. It's about being around for the people you love.

If you or someone you know is ready to make a change, I would love to help in any way I can. Please contact me.

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