Movement is medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional and mental states. – Carol Welch
First, a confession: I’m an exercise addict. “Just do it?” Well, I’ve done it AND loved it: running, tennis, biking, skiing, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, and boot camp workouts. I cherish the memory of feeling fit and running 6 miles on a beautiful sunny morning the day before my mastectomy. It’s a goal of mine to run that far again sometime soon. We all know of the benefits of regular exercise for energy, body image, and overall health, but regular exercise has also been demonstrated to prevent both cancer and its recurrence.
A 2005 Harvard study found that just walking on a regular basis helped women diagnosed with breast cancer reduce the risk of recurrence (I love the title of the article presenting this study: “Giving cancer its walking papers”). The study followed the walking habits of 3,000 women who’d had a breast cancer diagnosis. Those who regularly walked 3 to 5 hours a week (or got comparable exercise) were 50% less likely to have a recurrence of their cancer than women who exercised less than an hour per week. Translated, that means a whole variety of potentially enjoyable activities, like gardening, hula hooping with your kids or, my favorite, salsa dancing with Bradley Cooper, count as exercise.
But some people are not motivated by a medical prescription for exercise; to start and stick with an exercise routine, it has to make them feel good, and it has to be FUN.
Here are three ideas (but there are many more) for integrating exercise into your life, all registering high on the fun meter:
Talk the Walk
Following my surgery, more moderate exercise, like walking, was recommended for me. Although I missed running, I set up walking “dates” and walked nearly every day with a friend or family member. Walking “dates” were fun: sharing neighborhood gossip, swapping funny family stories, solving the worlds’ problems, AND simultaneously getting exercise. These walking dates raised my spirits, kept me connected to family and friends, and gave me an energy boost. Were these walks exercise? Yes, but most days they doubled as therapy as well.
Dance Your Way There
Are you someone who loves to get out on the dance floor at a wedding, party, or other event with music? When you think about it, who doesn’t enjoy shaking it up with friends? That’s Zumba. Zumba is a fitness class that combines dance and aerobic elements, choreographed to popular or Latin music. It’s da bomb. The music gets turned up loud, the moves are easy to follow, and you get a complete body workout; energy fills the room, you feed off of it during the class and take it with you afterwards. And you can’t help but develop a sense of community and camaraderie with others in this crazy class. I took Zumba classes during chemo, modified them as needed, and loved laughing and dancing in the face of cancer, no gracefulness required.
Take a Joyride
Aside from walking while I was in treatment, I biked. Our area, like many others, has a number of bike trails. I love exploring new trails, no cars, smooth riding, and, most of the time, beautiful scenery. You can ride with family or friends, young or old. Biking can make you feel like a kid again, and it’s the green way to travel.
Biking can be also be a cool adventure and sometimes much more. Just after I finished chemo, I went with my husband to Arizona. A highlight of our trip was a morning of mountain biking on some trails through Sedona, Arizona, led by our guide, George. The trails we were on were filled with rocks and had some steep inclines that we had to learn to navigate both up and down. These were George’s instructions:
- Keep your eyes focused on the terrain in front of you (i.e., don’t look down, even though there are some BIG rocks underneath you); that’s the only way you’ll be able to appropriately switch gears and handle what’s ahead.
- Trust your bike; it’s designed to handle the rough terrain as long as you have faith in it.
- When going over the big rocks, stand up off the seat and work on keeping your feet and body balanced.
- Don’t forget to take in the scenery.
The mountain biking instructions were, simply stated, some of the life lessons I was trying to learn while navigating my personal journey through breast cancer: keep your eyes focused ahead, trust yourself, try to stay calm and balanced, and don’t forget to find joy in what surrounds you.
That bike ride was much more then exercise for my physical health, it enhanced my spiritual health as well – and was a laugh-out-loud good time.
Finding something you enjoy doing can make exercise fun and invigorating, connect you to others, help you meet some interesting people, see some exciting things, and might teach you a thing or two about yourself as well. Stretch your boundaries, shape YOUR exercise program to benefit both your body and spirit – and give cancer its walking papers.