UAB says exercise an important part of cancer care

UAB hosts a seminar to train exercise professionals in how to help cancer patients become physically active during treatment and recovery.

Sara Chandler was 24 when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer. She had been active while growing up, but not what she would call a fitness buff.  That changed as she began treatments for her cancer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

kvale_cancer_exercise_s“I was getting radiation and chemotherapy, and I felt like my body was turning to mush; and it was,” said Chandler. “I started doing light exercise when I could, because I wanted to feel like I was doing something good for my body.”

There is increasing evidence exercise and overall fitness are important for those fighting cancer, and for cancer survivors. New guidelines from the American Cancer Society presented in 2012 recommend that people living with cancer maintain a healthy weight, get enough exercise and eat a healthy diet. 

“We have more and more scientific evidence that shows that healthy nutrition and physical activity after a diagnosis can lower the chances of the cancer coming back, as well as improve the chances of disease-free survival,” said Elizabeth Kvale, M.D., medical director of the Supportive Care and Survivorship Clinic at UAB and an associate professor in the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and Center for Palliative and Supportive Care.

But Chandler, who admits that the road she traveled while battling cancer was smoother than some, says it is not just that easy to adopt an exercise program while coping with chemotherapy and radiation.

There is increasing evidence exercise and overall fitness are important for those fighting cancer, and for cancer survivors. New guidelines from the American Cancer Society presented in 2012 recommend that people living with cancer maintain a healthy weight, get enough exercise and eat a healthy diet. 

“Let’s face it, chemo is not good for you,” she said. “Once I recovered, I really wanted to find a way to help others who were in similar circumstances.”

Now six years in remission, Chandler has changed careers, leaving accounting behind and becoming a personal trainer. She discovered an organization in Oregon, the Cancer Training Exercise Institution, that taught exercise professionals how to work with cancer patients and cancer survivors.   

“I was going to get certified on my own, but then Dr. Kvale suggested we think a little bigger,” Chandler said.

Kvale invited the Cancer Training Exercise Institution to come to Birmingham; on April 6-7, 2031, 30 exercise professionals from around the Southeast underwent the intense two-day, 16-hour certification process, the first such seminar ever offered in the Southeast.

“We had personal trainers, physical therapists, even yoga and Pilate’s instructors,” said Kvale. “Most were from Birmingham, but some came from as far as Nashville and Atlanta.”

The training helps exercise professionals recognize the abilities and the limitations of cancer patients.

“You have to be aware of exercise limits for those dealing with cancer,” said Chandler. “And what they can do on one day is not necessarily what they’ll be able to do on the next.”

“There are adaptive strategies that exercise professionals can use to help patients maximize their physical activity,” said Kvale. “And the psychological aspects are very important, especially for patients who have undergone surgery.”

Kvale says having a cadre of trained individuals who can help a cancer patient begin and maintain a level of physical activity is an important, even essential, community resource.

The certification is good for two years. The American College of Sports Medicine offers a similar certification, and Kvale anticipates bringing both groups to UAB on a regular basis to increase the number of trained practitioners in the city.

“This is all about restoring cancer patients to function and helping survivors be more active,” Kvale said. “Now we have a resource to help patients do just that.”

The American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute and National Comprehensive Cancer Network all have posted information on the value of exercise, nutrition and overall wellness on their websites for those dealing with cancer.

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