Exercise has a huge range of benefits, both physically and mentally. This is something everyone is aware of and in recent years there has been a huge push in getting more people active. Yet there is still a damaging misconception that people with cancer need to rest up and take it easy. The benefits of exercise are just as important for helping you with recovery as they are for cancer prevention, and can help alleviate symptoms and side effects of treatment to boot.
You may not be able to exercise in the same way as you could before diagnosis, and some (or most of the time) you might feel too poorly or not have the energy. Starting to exercise or maintaining it through your cancer journey in a way that works for you will have huge benefits on your health and happiness and be worth every bit of the extra effort. So, to persuade you to get up and exercise here are some reasons to get active:
Your body will be facing the biggest challenge of its life whilst going through treatment and you need to help it be in the best possible shape to fight for you. Exercise will boost your metabolism and immune system, get your blood pumping and help your body do the best job it can when fighting cancer. Increasing blood flow and oxygen to the muscles helps alleviate fatigue, and can help you cope through your treatment. It can also help reduce muscle wastage, another side effect to many treatments. Not to mention those extra endorphins you could definitely do with.
Leading to the benefits to mental health… Exercise calms the mind and is a form of meditation for many. With body and mind focused on the task at hand, it’s only when I stop exercising I realise that for that last hour my mind has been wonderfully free and I have left all my troubles at home on the sofa. This little break from thinking is a great way to escape and nourish your body at the same time, and who doesn’t love killing two birds with one stone! On top of clearing your mind, exercise releases dopamine, the happiness neurotransmitter. If these benefits aren’t compelling enough exercise also releases endorphins, which have been proven to be effective painkillers- exercise gives you a wave of happiness whilst also relieving pain (what more can a girl want).
Having cancer can be a huge knock to your self-esteem and confidence. Not only are you more tired and less active but most treatments cause nasty side effects like weight loss or gain, looking pale, swelling, or losing your hair. Watching your body change for the worse as a young adult is frustrating. I personally went from being an avid pole fitness fan, exercising 5/6 days out of 7 and being so close to the goal of nice toned abs (oh so close), to being insatiably hungry and only having the energy to exercise once or twice a week. My treatment also means I have low hormones, a compounding effect to losing all progress and my dream of a six pack. Keeping up exercise at least once a week has been important in feeling like my body isn’t regressing too much and having some control over how I look and feel. Having cancer is a big enough knock to your body image, so stick a middle finger up to it by getting out and exercising when you can and make it easier to remember how beautiful and sexy you are!
Diagnosis and treatment can often leave you with a hella’ lot of time on your hands and in a lonely and isolating place. The big pause button can take away your normality as well as the parts of your life that gave you purpose and passion. Finding a sport or exercise you love is a great way to have a hobby to take up some time as well as keep you feeling productive and entertained. Some activities are also a great way to make new friends (both cancer people and non-cancer people alike). Find a sport or activity you enjoy, see if there is a club or group locally and get socialising.
After diagnosis one of my biggest struggles was initially feeling useless, as everything changed I was no longer able to focus on my priorities and progress in life. Keeping active and exercising is a great way to feel like you are still able, that even though your body might be slightly broken in some way it is capable and can do great things. It’s so important to still love your body even with cancer rather than resent or hate it- after all, you’re a team.
So if I have done my job and persuaded you to incorporate exercise into your new normal, here are some tips on how to manage it:
- Listen to your body- how you feel from cancer and treatment changes daily, and to manage your health and body you need to be flexible and exercise or rest as and when your body needs. If you aren’t up to it, that is okay. If you aren’t up to it for several months, that is okay. But, if you feel you can manage some exercise and you are feeling good, make the most of it! Exercising the right amount when you can is a sure fire way to make your good spells last longer and be more regular.
- Find an exercise that is suitable for your needs– you can get benefit from doing any level of exercise. I’m not expecting you to run a marathon or smash out 100kg deadlifts at the gym. Some light yoga, or a walk out in the countryside will give you all the physical and emotional benefits without pushing yourself too far. Every little really does help!
- Find an exercise you enjoy- If you get joy from the exercise you choose it will be much easier to incorporate into your life and get up and do it when you are feeling down.
- Find an exercise buddy– Finding someone to help give you that little push to do something active when you might not be feeling quite up to it will help you manage it more often. You will end up feeling so much better afterwards.
- Try an exercise you can do at home– Even though there are benefits to getting out of the house, exercising at home reduces any pressure. Perhaps try find a youtube video to follow. This way you can do as little or as much as you like and stop at any point you need. Again listen to your body and do what is right for you at the time.
Making the most of your good days and exercising will help you feel healthier and happier, so keep it up!
For some more advice on exercising with cancer visit Trekstock