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Move through It – Exercise as Medicine during Chemo
Move through It:
Exercise as Medicine during Chemo.
Somedays, it might be the last thing that you want to do. You don’t feel anywhere near your best, you’d like some comfort (maybe a lazy boy chair) and you are so, so tired. But getting up and moving may be the best way of feeling better! While it may be challenging to begin, consider these advantages.
Moving moves the circulation (especially the lymph). Because the lymph system doesn’t have its own pump, moving and breathing help to get the system flowing. This is remarkably helpful in cleaning the body and releasing toxins. At the OICC, I’ve noticed that people often come to a gentle yoga class right after chemo to start the body gently de-toxifying.
Moving gives you a sense of agency. When you get up to walk, swim or bike, you can take back a little bit of control of your own life. Said better, you control what you can – which is your determination to help yourself. You’ll feel less like a victim and more like an active player in your story of healing.
Moving helps you to release the shock of a diagnosis. Shock and fear are real companions in cancer, but they can feel as though they are lodged in our cells (I would argue they are). Any kind of movement lets the nervous system know that you are not at immediate risk, that even though the rug has been pulled out from underneath; you are safe in this moment. Yoga, T’ai Chi, qigong or any gentle movement balances the nervous system and helps you to work through any longer term anxiety.
Moving moves us. When we begin to move, even gently, emotions can sometimes rise to the surface. This doesn’t sound like good news, but it is. It gives us a chance to know how we are feeling, to be with ourselves and release tension (through talking, crying) and start afresh.
As strange as it sounds, exercise actually helps to combat fatigue. Not all fatigue during chemo is a problem – when the body is healing, there is always a necessary fatigue. But movement can help you to feel less fatigued overall. Sometimes if you can just move a little bit, wiggle your toes, your fingers and then notice how you feel. Better? Then walk down the hallway. Better? Keep going! Checking in to your body will help you decide how much is good, especially right after chemo. The off-weeks can be a time to enjoy longer walks or longer yoga classes.
Many side effects can be mediated through good living, good diet and exercise! Fatigue, nausea, dizziness, balance issues… these all can be gently worked with, in your favourite mode of exercise. Balance movement with good rest, and consult your Naturopathic Doctor for further help to reduce side effects.
If this all sounds like a good idea in theory, but you aren’t sure how to proceed, consider seeing a yoga therapist for individual programs. Sometimes company can make all the difference. Ask a friend (who badly wants to help) to be your exercise buddy or join a yoga/exercise class for those facing cancer. Some people find it motivating to keep track of your daily exercise in a daily log. This may be helpful at the beginning.
As you start and continue moving through it, the most enduring motivation will be how well you feel!