Taffie Lynn Butters is a board-certified health coach at The After Cancer. She's a breast cancer survivor and is passionate about helping others recovering from cancer with lifestyle interventions. Picture: Taffie is part of a Dragon Boat Team.
I was an active child so why didn't exercise become a core part of my routine?
I grew up in the 80’s with Jane Fonda, leg warmers and neon colors. Exercise for me was more about the social connection and the cute outfits! I had a membership to the local gym, and a couple of times a week I would make my way to the group classes for aerobics. My Mom was a fitness instructor for a while at a women’s fitness place, and the memories of her practicing her routines to the sound of the 8-track player in her bedroom are a vivid memory.
As a child I was active in sports. I was on a team at the YMCA for everything from basketball to softball. I loved to swim and spent countless hours riding my bike around the neighborhood. So why didn’t exercise become a core part of my everyday routine?
We all know exercise is healthy
Exercise, in and of itself, is healthy. We all know that, but do you really know why it’s so important? In today’s modern world of jammed packed schedules, family, friends, and life, somehow exercise/movement often gets pushed to the end of the to do list. It’s almost like we feel guilty for taking the time to care and nourish our body.
After a cancer diagnosis your world gets turned upside down. Whatever jammed packed schedule you had, or busyness of life seems to melt away as the treatment of cancer takes center stage. As you reach the end of your active treatment phase, or perhaps even during your treatment phase you may start to wonder, “what more can I be doing to help my healing and recovery?”
Integrative cancer care
Integrative cancer care is a powerful secondary prevention that focuses on modifiable risk factors. Skilled integrative physicians investigate potential root causes of the disease and empower you with participation in your wellness. Not only does this integrative approach help to improve your quality of life, but it can reduce some risk factors.
There is mounting evidence that lifestyle choices, environmental exposures that interact with genetics, and other unknown factors play a role in your cancer care. Physical Activity is just one of the lifestyle choices that has a significant impact on your health, healing and reducing your risk of recurrence.
The benefits of exercise/movement
Let’s take a look at the benefits that studies and research can teach you about exercise/movement.
Physical activity improves immunity, reduces insulin resistance, fat, inflammation, and estrogen – all factors that increase your risk of cancer recurrence and overall survival. Exercise is important in limiting toxicities by eliminating them through sweat and can be an important factor in late term effects of treatment. We see decreased fatigue with yoga practices, prevention of lymphedema with weightlifting, and help reducing pain.
In breast cancer alone, “A meta-analysis including over 12, 000 patients (ages 30-55) showed that post-diagnosis exercise decreased all-cause mortality by 40% and breast cancer-specific mortality by 34%, especially in ER+ patients who received the most benefit. Further, disease recurrence was decreased by 24%.” (Ibrahim, 2010) That is some pretty strong evidence to get moving!
Unfortunately, most of us struggle to make time or find motivation. While mortality is an obvious motivation, changing our lifestyle can be challenging. Understanding your true “why” is important. (ex: I want to have less pain, gain my strength, and reduce my chances of recurrence)
Coaching your way into a daily exercise practice
Here are some quick coaching strategies to help get you on the road to daily exercise.
Identify why exercise is important to you.
What would it mean to you to integrate exercise into your routine?
What symptoms are you having that may benefit from exercise?
What are some positive side effects that exercise may have for you?
Start small and set goals that you can easily achieve!
Ask yourself, where can I fit exercise/movement into my day?
When you set effective goals, you’ll achieve more. Goals provide focus, enhance productivity, boost self-esteem, and increase commitment. When setting a goal, clearly outline the steps needed to achieve it while minimizing overwhelm. Make your goals S.M.A.R.T.
S.pecific – Be as detailed as possible. Include the following:
Who will be involved?
What do you want to accomplish?
Ex – I want to go to for a walk at least 3x a week starting December 1st.
M.easurable – establish criteria to measure your progress. How will you know when the goal is achieved? Create a checklist of steps and check them off as you achieve them.
A.ttainable – Make sure your goal is small enough to be successful, and that your goal aligns with your future vision of health.
R.ealistic – How committed are you to this goal? Have you done something similar in the past? If so, what made you successful? Be honest with yourself, and about the time and energy you can commit to this goal.
T.imely – give yourself a timeline, and steps you may need to take to reach your goal. Map out a plan – especially if you need to enlist the help of others.
Although the American Cancer Society recommends 150 mins of moderate exercise paired with 2 days of strength training, you may need to work up to this recommendation especially if you are in active treatment or just started your cancer recovery. Initial goals may look like walking to the mailbox daily, or doing recommended physical therapy exercises daily. Regardless of where you start, making exercise a daily part of your life has significant benefits.
Before starting any exercise/movement routine, consult with your physician. And as always, be flexible, kind, and patient with yourself.