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Exercise is good medicine for cancer patients — and all of us

Cancer has been the second-leading cause of death in Alabama since 1966, and Alabama has the fifth-highest cancer rate in all the U.S., according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

This is one of the reasons our local YMCA of Calhoun County has started a new program called Fit to Fight, in partnership with Clearview Cancer Institute and Russel Hill Cancer Foundation.

The Russel Hill Cancer Foundation raises funds that stay in north Alabama, helping cancer patients with their out-of-pocket expenses, and even with household bills. The organization’s three focus areas are research, education and assistance to those who have cancer and need support.

Our local YMCA received a grant to offer this program, and we feel it is so needed. Everyone is touched by cancer, or at least knows several people who have been. It is so prevalent it is scary.

Russel Hill has partnered with the Clearview Cancer Institute (CCI) and is now partnering with YMCAs in Alabama to offer CCI cancer patients a 12-week wellness program, meant to give people who have cancer (and those who have fought cancer within the past five years) more tools to fight their disease.

CCI refers their patients who are interested in the program to the YMCA of Calhoun County, and we in turn set them up with a Certified Cancer Exercise Specialist at the YMCA to plan a three-month goal, utilizing weekly walk and tone classes, one-on-one meetings and a free three-month membership to the YMCA of Calhoun County.

Orientations will cover how to use equipment as well as what equipment to use to meet those goals. All workouts are tailored to the person’s abilities.

The expectation is for patients to exercise three times a week in some capacity, either at the Y or on their own, for at least 30 minutes. This is a great minimum goal for all of us, especially those of us over 50. 

So many studies have shown that exercise can help cancer patients deal with anxiety, reduce depression, improve sleep quality and reduce risks of other cancers through healthier weight and a healthier lifestyle.

Exercise can also minimize side effects caused by cancer meds and the cancer itself.

Mayo Clinic reviewed 61 studies about women diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and found if they did aerobic-type exercises and strength training, it improved their outcomes.

They also found through these studies that exercise can change a tumor’s environment and set off strong anti-tumor activity in the immune system.

Another huge factor is managing weight. Being obese, or even just overweight, can increase your risk of some types of cancer, including liver, breast, esophageal, pancreatic and endometrial. And being overweight can also lead to cancer returning. 

Dr. Prue Cormie, an exercise physiologist and the chairperson of COSA (Clinical Oncology Society of Australia), said in a statement: “If we could turn the benefits of exercise into a pill, it would be demanded by patients, prescribed by every cancer specialist and subsidized by government. It would be a major breakthrough in cancer treatment.”

In other words, exercise is medicine! And it benefits all of us whether we have cancer or diabetes or high blood pressure or any disease. It should be part of all our routine care. Period.

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer. She is fitness director for the YMCA of Calhoun County. Her “Fitness over 50” column appears the third weekend of each month.