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Family Fitness for Cancer Patients

By David Haas

Cancer patients often feel helpless when they are diagnosed with breast cancer, colon cancer, mesothelioma cancer, or another cancer type, but they aren’t the only ones who suffer from a perceived lack of control. Family members of cancer patients often feel helpless and useless in the face of a loved one's cancer battle and want to help any way they can. Studies have shown that physical fitness and exercise are helpful to cancer patients whose bodies need help to survive treatment, but loved ones of cancer patients can benefit from exercise as well.

While some cancer patients will not feel up to exercising during cancer treatment, many doctors agree that exercise helps the body fight. Physical fitness also boosts the mood, improves circulation, and gives the patient a sense of self-confidence. Group therapy may also be effective for cancer patients and the love and support of family members in particular will likely benefit both the patient and the family. Cancer patients may feel alone during treatment, but the support of others will help them soldier on with the treatment.

In addition to being an outlet for love and support, exercise can help an entire family burn through stress. Cancer patients suffer during treatments, but their families suffer by watching their pain as well. Exercise burns off that stress and produces feel-good chemicals in the brain that boost moods. Physical fitness is also good for general health; if families get in the habit of exercising together, then they might be able to avoid medical problems-- including contracting cancer later in life.

There are a variety of exercises that families can do that will benefit those dealing with cancer. Some gyms and health clubs offer special classes for cancer patients, but family members can exercise together at home as well. Yoga and tai chi, for example, are fairly simple to learn; while people can attend classes, they can also purchase books and instructional films or find information on the Internet. Some people do not consider such methods to be true exercises, but many yoga and tai chi routines can be quite rigorous.

Walking and hiking are also good family activities for those with cancer. Most doctors agree that exercise does not have to be strenuous in order to be effective; in fact, some experts believe that continuous, steady walking might be as good for the body as heavy cardiovascular exercising. Hiking especially gives families the opportunity to experience the great outdoors in a park; if cancer patients and their families live near such places, the parks will often have trails of differing lengths and difficulties.

Families dealing with cancer may also want to consider swimming if they have access to a pool. Swimming can be physically demanding, but the buoyancy caused by the water can often lessen the weight placed on joints. Everyone from the elderly to little children can enjoy swimming as long as proper precautions are taken. Swimming is a fun way for the whole family to cool down during the summer.

Not all cancer patients experience treatments in the same way and some patients have more energy and stamina than others. Those patients who can engage in rigorous exercise should do as much as possible as this builds up the body and helps it survive treatments. Team sports like soccer, football, and ultimate Frisbee are excellent ways to exercise, even for families. In fact, simply playing football or soccer in the backyard several times a week is good exercise. Dodgeball is another fun choice, especially for larger families that can get large groups together.

Families can also rollerblade and ride bikes together; cancer patients who can stand such vigorous exercise will enjoy the benefits of fitter bodies for treatments and the good times they are having with their families. Going to a skating rink can be fun for the whole family and everyone can do as much or as little as they want. There are also ample places at a skating rink for cancer patients to rest should they get tired.

Cancer patients will need to accept that they will not always feel up to exercising and that when they feel so inclined, they will not be able to exercise as strenuously as they normally can. Patients should not overextend themselves; families can help monitor fatigue levels and can proceed accordingly. Families will have to learn to walk the fine line between encouraging and pressuring, but the results are worth it.

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