Piling on the miles with a purpose
I often interview cancer survivors as well as patients still being treated here at the Hutchinson Center. And one thing has struck me about many of them: they are not shy about pushing their bodies at all, something that one would not expect from people dealing with such a terrible disease.
One of them pedaled eight miles a day on a stationary bike during his stay at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (the treatment arm of the Hutchinson Center). Another recovering patient subjected himself to the rigorous—and painful—Ironman, an event that features a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.
Not so long ago, cancer patients would have been told to take it easy by their doctors. No need to sweat. But that message is changing thanks in large part to a growing body of evidence—backed by many studies, including those made here at the Center—that physical activity has great benefits for cancer patients and survivors.
And we’re not talking about doing the Ironman. Even a modest amount of exercise—such as brief walks—is beneficial, according to a National Cancer Institute expert.
This month, a panel of 13 researchers convened by the American College of Sports Medicine concluded that staying active is one of the best things cancer survivors can do to stay healthy.
The researchers—with expertise in cancer, fitness, obesity and exercise training—came together to develop guidelines on exercise and physical activity for patients going through cancer treatment and for those who have already completed their treatment.
In a National Cancer Institute (NCI) news bulletin published last month, Dr. Rachel Ballard-Barbash, a member of the NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, said the evidence linking physical activity with improved quality of life for cancer patients “is incredibly strong.” And it’s more so for patients who have already completed their treatments.
At the Hutchinson Center, we already tell patients that exercise is very important for maintaining health after a transplant. Studies have shown that a physically active lifestyle, along with appropriate weight and a healthful diet, can help prevent cancer recurrence, new cancers and other chronic diseases.
If you’re currently undergoing cancer treatment or are recovering, talk to your doctor about starting a general exercise program. And depending on where you live, you may have access to programs designed for cancer survivors. In Seattle, the Hutchinson Center and the LiveStrong Foundation have partnered with the YMCA to provide a 10-week exercise program for survivors. Check here to see if your local YMCA offers the program.
And don’t forget to write to us and tell us how you pile on the miles with a purpose.