Surviving Cancer, Surviving Exercise

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In June we recognize National Cancer Survivors Day as a celebration for individuals who have survived this deadly and complicated disease. We want to celebrate YOU for the fight you have endured and the mental strength it took for you to stay positive through treatment. If anyone reading this is currently going through cancer treatment, know that you can be a survivor, too, and we encourage you to reach out for inspiration and help along your journey. One resource is the National Cancer Survivors Day organization. They offer education, guidance on what to do and networking opportunities. Visit them online at

Now I have some good news and some bad news. Which do you want to hear first? OK, the bad news. Exercise. The good news? Exercise! Research has shown that exercise during all phases of cancer treatment and after cancer can be beneficial but difficult depending on individual circumstances. As a cancer survivor, the goal is to return to your former level of physical and psychological function. The side effects of cancer treatment can be an obstacle to physical activity, and therefore, working closely with your healthcare provider team will be beneficial in working through those obstacles. Radiation and chemotherapy can cause permanent scar tissue formation in joints, lungs and heart tissues, all of which may limit cardiovascular and musculoskeletal function. The good news is that many survivors can benefit from exercise due to the positive effect that exercise has on skeletal muscle and mental well-being. After treatment, most patients have reduced muscle strength and endurance, making exercise an important aspect of survivorship.

Surviving cancer is a tremendous victory. Don't let an inactive lifestyle lead you down that road to disability after all you have worked for. Think of it not as "exercise" or a chore you need to do, but instead think of exercise as playing with the grandkids, going to the store or walking the dog - just do what you can do and then do a little more next time.

The American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) exercise recommendations for cancer survivors state that the intensity (how hard you are working), frequency (how many days per week0 and duration (how long each exercise session lasts) may be difficult to make; however, adhering to standards for healthy individuals may be appropriate with adjustments made for treatment side effects. The recommendations for adults include 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week. Break that down to 30 minutes, five days a week, and it's manageable, depending on how you feel. You can also benefit from the effects of exercise by performing three 10-minute bouts to make up 30 minutes. Try low-weight strength training to improve muscle strength and endurance. Stretching and flexibility exercise is important to increase range of motion that may be limited by scar tissue formation. Try one or two sessions daily. To improve balance and coordination, try tandem walking and, holy cow, hold on to something! It's YOUR move!

Corley Roberts, ACSM EP-C, MHA, CPHQ, is an Exercise Physiologist, published author, public speaker, health care professional and founder and CEO of MyFitScript. MyFitScript has been featured on Medscape Inc., CBS Healthwatch, Business and Health Magazine and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Visit for exercise education and programs, or contact Corley at

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Corley Roberts
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