People often don’t understand that although cancer treatment ends, it doesn’t really end. What does that mean? Many of the drugs that work to save your life from cancer can cause other side effects – heart issues, bone degeneration, hearing loss, hot flashes, whatever. So you’re always on your toes, being proactive or managing some unexpected outcome. Staying active can help fight these side effects. And if you’re not a cancer survivor? Well staying active can prevent or minimize a lot of other health issues.
When I finished 13 months of treatment for bone cancer that included four different chemo drugs, I knew I was at risk for possible future heart issues from the amount of adriamyacin, a toxic, aggressive chemo drug, that I received. I get an echocardiogram and see a cardiologist annually to help be proactive in protecting my heart. But how do I protect my heart the most? Regular exercise.
While I try to maintain a healthy diet, being active has been the number one benefit to protecting my heart. And my cardio workouts have helped – last week, I met with my cardiologist for my annual check up. I had a special strain echo test done a few months ago to look more closely at my heart. I was thrilled to learn my heart looks incredibly healthy. In fact, several of my baselines have improved!
I commented to my cardiologist how in awe I am of my body’s strength to overcome three cancers, all the toxic chemo drugs and more. She agreed but then kindly pointed out that it is because of me and my determination to keep my body strong and healthy. Her words admittedly made me proud of how hard I work.
I acknowledge that I’m fortunate to enjoy exercise (How many of you groaned at that statement? I know, it’s annoying to those who don’t love it.). However, even I have moments when I need to really motivate and push myself off the couch. Because it’s important to take care of your body. We only get one, friends.
If you’re having a hard time getting started, or staying motivated, here a few easy tips that help me stay active:
Find an activity that you enjoy. It’s no secret that I love cycling! I would ride my bike every day if I could. Cycling provides so many benefits, including helping me mentally, emotionally and physically. Because I enjoy it so much, I don’t focus on it being exercise, but rather something that I’m enjoying. I feel the same about hiking – I love being outdoors so walking on a trail is relaxing. Ditto with Zumba and dancing. When I focus on the fun I’m having, the effort of ‘working out’ fades away. And I feel awesome after the activity as I know I helped my body get strong.
Find some like-minded people. I’ve been going to Zumba for years. And while I love the music and dancing, I also have become good friends with many of the women in my class. This motivates me to attend so I can see them! I also joined a few cycling and outdoor clubs to I could meet others who enjoy these activities. It’s a lot harder to blow off an activity if you have others expecting you to show up.
Set small goals. I heard myself tell someone the other day that I did a short bike ride….it was 20 miles. Then I chuckled because there was a time that 20 miles seemed like a looooong bike ride (and some days it still does). But trust me, it took training and consistent biking to get to this point where I enjoy, and look forward to, biking 30-40 miles in a morning. Just like it took training to build up to lifting 20 pounds or more in the gym. Or carrying a weighted backpack on a hiking trail. When I bought my road bike and started training to bike across Iowa with LIVESTRONG, I set small goals in five-mile increments (I even set my Garmin tracker so it beeps, like a cheer, every five miles I log!) and when I reach five miles, I check in with myself to decide if I’m physically and mentally up for five more miles. Then I reach another five miles and do the same. These smaller milestones are so much more achievable than only focusing on the big goal.
Reward yourself for accomplishments. I’m really good at rewarding myself, lol! Sometimes it’s small, like a smoothie. Other times I earn new workout clothing or cycling items. Or dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. Or….whatever it may be, it’s fun to set a goal with a reward. And then achieve it!
The most important and easiest tip– get started! Seriously, once you get started, it becomes easier. Put your shoes on, set a date with your friend to meet at a class or the trailhead or even your front door for a walk. Just get started. And know that you are doing this for YOU. It’s your body, your health that you are supporting for the long term. That’s worth any time and effort. As a three-time cancer survivor, I promise this to be true.
What are some ways that you motivate yourself to exercise?
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