October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and before this month comes to a close, it is important to remind individuals how to recognize breast cancer and be proactive in the pursuit of detection, prevention, education and support.
In the United States alone, about 1 of 8 women and 1 of 1000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. It is crucial for everyone to take action toward early detection and to make sure the proper preventative steps are being taken.
If you work in the health and fitness industry, taking the extra steps towards self-detection and prevention is highly encouraged. If you are working with a breast cancer patient it is your responsibility to gather the proper information and form an understanding of the disease. Doing so will help you understand what your client is going through and how you can help them live their healthiest lives throughout the course of their battle.
Exercising Clients Safely During Cancer Treatment
Exercising during chemotherapy can help ease side effects such as fatigue and nausea and can help boost your immune system. Chemotherapy side effects like fatigue, nausea and nerve pain can sometimes make exercising tough, but physicians advise patients to try to be as active as their body permits, within certain guidelines.
As a personal trainer, group fitness instructor or gym owner, one of the most important factors to consider when working with someone who is going through cancer treatment is to be adaptable in your programming. Two people with the same treatment plan can have totally different physical responses.
Speaking from experience, when training clients who are going through cancer treatment it is important to note that the client’s overall physicality can change without warning, even within minutes before the start of a session. So be sure to keep a close eye on their condition, including asking them how they feel. If a client wishes to stop, stop and let them rest.
Here are some helpful tips when working with someone going through cancer treatment:
Get Their Doctor’s Okay Before Pursuing An Exercise Program
If you have a member or client that will be undergoing treatment for cancer, be sure to get medical clearance from their physician. With the client’s permission, go the extra mile and reach out to their attending physician (your client may have to sign a release form) and ask if there are any unique health conditions or limitations you need to take into consideration that will affect how you program for your client.
Know When To Avoid Exercise, Especially At Gyms
Because cancer and cancer treatments weaken the immune system, public gyms can become a potential danger to clients undergoing treatment. Germs and bacteria that their bodies could have fought off before can cause dangerous infections and complications.
Ask your client or member if they know their white blood cell count. If it is lower than 3,500 white blood cells per microliter of blood, have them avoid public gyms, yoga studios and other public places until their white blood cell count is at a safe level.
While regular, moderate exercise is beneficial for clients with cancer, know when it is and is not appropriate to do so. If your client is experiencing extreme fatigue, anemia (low red blood cell count) or a lack of muscle coordination (ataxia), don’t have them exercise. The risk will outweigh the benefits and possibly cause harm to the body.
Keep Exercises Gentle & Low Impact
Remove high impact exercises from your client’s exercise program as some treatment plans can cause a loss in bone density. If the cancer has spread to the bone, then there is an increased risk of breakage during high impact activities or an accidental fall.
Rather, continue a walking program that can stimulate and maintain their bone health. But if they are not reaching their heart rate goals walking, consider using a walking hill program on a TRUE Alpine trainer. For variety, a TRUE Elliptical, TRUE Spectrum Elliptical or any TRUE bike can be used to challenge your client’s cardiovascular system.
Tailor Exercise Programs To Their New Needs
If your client or member is experiencing neuropathy (pain or numbness) or tingling in their hands or feet from chemotherapy, make sure you program their training session to reduce their risk of falling.
Choose exercises that do not require a lot of dynamic balance like walking lunges or step-ups on an unstable training apparatus. On the same page, you should still do exercises that safely challenge their balance to keep their neuromuscular system active. Be sure to spot your client and position them near fixed stable objects in case they lose their balance.
As people have the most difficulty regaining their balance when falling backwards, the optimal position to spot your client during a balance drill is to stand behind them. Using a TRUE Smith Machine, TRUE Dual sided rack or TRUE Stretch cage can provide grab points in case your client loses their balance.
If you have been working with a client prior to receiving cancer treatment, you may have to lower the intensity and duration of their workout. The way their bodies respond to the treatment could impact their energy levels, their sleep patterns and their appetite and therefore have an adverse effect on their exercise performance.
Use Targeted Strength Equipment
Having a game plan on how to modify their exercises during a session will help keep the flow of the session and hopefully distract your client from thinking their fitness is suffering because you had to stop and downgrade an exercise. If the majority of your client’s training program consisted of compound, multi-joint functional exercises, a good option to keep your clients’ safe yet maintain their strength is to use selectorized strength machines like TRUE’s Fuse line.
Not only are the biomechanics correct to allow proper joint motion and muscle activation, but they can be seated to reduce any fall risk if their balance has been adversely affected by the treatment.
It is important that your client or member keeps their body strong during treatment. Not only can it help boost their immune system, but it can help them maintain their daily activities. Once their treatment is over, hopefully the gap between pre-treatment and post-treatment fitness levels won’t be too great and they can resume their regular fitness routine.