Hitting the gym, chronic illness style

As featured in a recent article in the New York Times, check out this great concept for chemotherapy patients who want to get a little exercise, but shouldn't push too hard.

In doing a quick search online, I found several other gym classes geared toward chronic illnesses, including Arthritis, Parkinson's, and Diabetes around the country. No sign of Lupus classes yet, but hopefully, they're coming soon!

In the meantime, click here to check out another great article about how to pick the right gym for you.


Said the Doctor to the Cancer Patient: Hit the Gym

New York Times, Fitness and Nutrition, August 13th, 2008, by Anahad O'Connor.

As the group of women trickled into the aerobics studio at the Bendheim Integrative Medicine Center in Manhattan on a recent Thursday morning, there were subtle signs that this was no ordinary fitness class. One woman told the instructor that she had missed a string of previous classes because she was grappling with fatigue, a side effect of her new cancer medication. Others wore colorful wraps on their arms, containment sleeves meant to protect against lymphedema, a painful swelling of the arm stemming from breast cancer surgery.

Sponsored by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, this class for cancer patients has been around for some time, mostly in a league by itself. But in recent years, following studies that found exercise to be beneficial in combating the effects of cancer, the class has gained some company.

Gyms and fitness centers have begun stepping in to meet a small but growing demand for programs designed to not only hasten recovery but to address the fatigue of chemotherapy, the swelling of lymphedema and the loss of muscle tone.

There have always been athletically inclined patients who stayed active, even competitive, in the wake of a diagnosis. A recent high-profile example is Eric Shanteau, an American Olympic swimmer who decided to put off testicular-cancer surgery until he had competed in Beijing.

But most of the roughly 10 million cancer survivors in the United States are not amateur Lance Armstrongs. Many, though, are inspired by celebrities like Mr. Armstrong, seeing them as models for how to come out on the other side of often-debilitating treatment regimens.

A new program from the Y.M.C.A., in partnership with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, offers cancer fitness classes at more than a dozen Y’s in 10 states. At the women’s gym Curves International, researchers from Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia are looking at whether overweight breast-cancer patients can keep to a five-day-a-week Curves routine for six months. And survivors are organizing their own classes.

“There used to be this understanding that if you’re getting treatment you’re supposed to be in your bed,” said Pam Whitehead, an architect and survivor of uterine cancer who started the Triumph Fitness Program at gyms in Modesto and West Sacramento, Calif.

In some cases, oncologists are prescribing exercise, gently prodding patients to tackle whatever activity they can manage: light walking, simple stretches, exercise with resistance bands.

“I started in 1992 and that was really a time when not as many patients were exercising,” said Dr. Alexandra Heerdt, a breast surgeon at Sloan-Kettering who is conducting a pilot program involving exercise. “If a patient came to me back then and asked about exercise, I would have said there wasn’t really any information.”

But now, she added, “they have a lot of options.”

Wendy Rahn, 46, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, knows this well. After a double mastectomy, her shoulders hurt so much that she was often hunched in pain. Then, while researching her illness, she discovered a 2005 study on cancer and exercise.

“The effects — what we call effect sizes in statistical research — were enormous,” she said, “and I was like ‘How come no one is talking about this?’ ” She had given up exercise a decade earlier, but the study inspired her to go back to the gym.

“I started feeling so much better,” she said. “And it struck me that if I’m feeling this good, then every cancer survivor should.”

So she founded a nonprofit group called Survivors’ Training, and in January opened a fitness studio in White Bear Lake, Minn., offering yoga, strength training, Pilates and Nia, which combines dance and martial arts. “I like to think of it as a support group that moves,” she said.

Check out the entire NY Times article here.


Anonymous said…
LOL good article, GYM and me well it is a nightmare. I end up in worse shape then when I go in...
Chronic Chick Talk
Anonymous said…
Great to hear there are actual gyms that have programs that actually plan on someone having an illness and not trying to create a work around for those with illness. I have rheumatoid arthritis and about 90% of they typical stuff I couldn't even think about doing (I need joint replacements all over, wrists have fused, etc.) It be kind of fun to do a program with others too.
Thanks for the tip!

Founder of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week in September!

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