June 20, 2018

Exercise Tips for Cancer Survivors

There is plenty of evidence out there showing how beneficial exercise can be, especially to cancer survivors.

“Exercise may help with fatigue or maintaining a healthy body weight, with stabilizing mood and hormone levels, with bone density – all things that may especially affect cancer patients after treatment,” said Lisa Milbrandt, LAT, CSCS, Fitness Supervisor. “People know they should be moving, that’s not a big surprise. It’s more the, how do I do it?”

At UW Health’s Sports Medicine Fitness Center, a medically-based fitness center which anyone can join, Milbrandt works with people on improving their fitness. One of the principles Milbrandt works with clients on is called the FITT principle, which stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type. The FITT principle is about both improving fitness and fitting it into individual’s lives.

“The cardiologists and exercise physiologists will tell you, the first piece is to just move. Find what feels ok to you and is sustainable, and do what you can do,” Milbrandt said. “I think it’s good for people to sit down and think about how they are going to do that exercise, and concepts of the FITT principle can be a starting point for people to develop a plan.”

For anyone looking to start exercising, Milbrandt said it is all about managing expectations through FITT. For example, daily exercise is recommended, but for people just starting to exercise or in a challenging part of their treatment plan, it is ok to take rest days. She encourages the “ten percent” rule, too, which means increasing the time or distance you exercise by no more than ten percent each week to make it a more attainable goal until you feel comfortable with the recommended 30 minutes of activity. Lastly, she said you do not need to push yourself so hard that you physically cannot exercise again for a few days – research shows that moderately intense exercise is enough.

Once someone has developed their fitness plan, the next big step is starting it – then sticking to it.

“One of the things we’ll tease out of people coming to see us is, are you somebody who likes to put their head down and be independent and do your thing, or are you somebody where social interaction really helps feed your consistency with your exercise program?” Milbrandt said. “For some people, having a buddy or joining a group makes it less likely you’re going to bow out.”

Irene Golembiewski, a cancer survivor diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008, could not agree more with Milbrandt.

“During treatment and the emotional part of realizing your life might be at risk and you are vulnerable, what really helped me emotionally and physically was running,” Golembiewski said. “I had a friend who was a runner and we’d go out and do whatever it was I could that day, just getting outside and getting fresh air and moving was the most important thing to me. It kept me even and I’m sure it helped with my healing.”

Soon, Golembiewski learned about TEAMSurvivor, a Madison-area fitness and support group for any woman who has or had a cancer diagnosis. The group offers activities to members such as Dragon Boating and paddling practice, triathlon training and group fitness classes at UW Health Sports Medicine. Knowing how useful it was to have a running partner motivate her during her treatment, she joined the group. The diverse activities and the encouragement of the other women in TEAM Survivor have kept her involved for nearly a decade, and currently she is the group’s president.

“Joining TEAM Survivor, I was automatically in a group of very welcoming women and I know everyone there has been through something similar to me,” Irene said. “Everyone is in a different place in their fitness and abilities, but they’re all very supportive and we focus on moving forward and getting healthy.”

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