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Some people can always find a good excuse to avoid exercise. Even the most diligent athlete sometimes feels too fatigued or overscheduled to include physical activity in their day. When you are suffering from a major health issue, it becomes far too easy to find fantastic excuses to skip your run, walk, bike ride or visit to the gym. Staying motivated to exercise during illness is paramount to both your recovery and self-concept. Please allow me to share some tips that can help you not become derailed on your journey through ill-ville.
Most of us relish the fact that we are healthy, athletic and capable. Being diagnosed with cancer can rock your world and destroy your self-concept. When you feel that your body has somehow let you down, even after you took such good care of it, it is easy to slide down the slippery slope and land in a puddle of self-pity. Reframe your thinking and focus on how hard your magnificent body is working to overcome illness. You are on an incredible journey, and your body is the chariot that carries you through it - potholes, speed bumps and detours included. Be thankful. Be kind and cherish your body. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, it “will be back!”
Fear of hurting yourself or doing harm is another issue that you may have to face down, especially after surgery and during on-going treatments. Check with your doctor and get the OK to return to activity. Ask questions about specific activities and then follow directions. My surgeon tells me that she often sees people try to return full force to exactly where they left off and then get hurt. Your body has been through hell; show it some respect! Ease your way back into exercise. You will be shocked at how quickly you can escalate your activity.
Pay attention to your body and learn to listen to what it is telling you. If you are in chemotherapy or receiving radiation treatments, you will quickly realize what your "schedule" is. For example, if you have chemo on Friday, Sunday may be the day that you are just wiped out. Honor this schedule and give yourself permission to have off days, couch days, prone days, whatever you decide to call them. However, when you get used to your "schedule," make sure that you do take advantage of the good days and engage in physical activity.
Be aware of any side effects that you are having and adjust accordingly. I experienced neuropathy in my feet, which lead to my having a nasty fall while walking. This is not an excuse to become a couch cowboy, but a signal to explore other activities that are safer. I started riding the recumbent bike when I realized it was not safe to walk or run.
Investigate classes that are geared towards cancer patients. Y4C offers yoga classes with instructors who are trained in the special needs of survivors of all types of cancer. (Yep, if you are still alive, you are a survivor.) Many cancer centers and community organizations offer exercise classes for cancer survivors; some are even free of charge. Not only will you be exercising in a safe environment but you may meet others in the same boat.
Please do not believe that your athletic days are over! Your body will be different, but not defunct. Set a goal for your return. Maybe it’s a half-marathon or climbing a fourteener. Perhaps it's returning to the NPC bikini stage one year and one week after you had a double mastectomy – wait, that's my goal!
Research shows us that people who exercise during illness recover faster than those who do not. Keep a positive mindset, listen to your body and prepare for the greatest, most active years of your life!
Not Sure Where to Start With Your Workouts?
Getting back to the gym can be an overwhelming experience, but not if you have a plan. Learn which machines can help get you towards your goals and how to exercise most effectively. The Cybex Workout Center provides free programs to help sculpt your core and tone your upper and lower body through an array of cardio and power workouts. It's free, why not give it a try?