7 Things Your Gym Can Do for Cancer Patients and Survivors

Many gyms offer specialized programs to help cancer patients manage their health. Here are some ideas to help you start a program of your own.

Roughly one in every 200 people living in the United States could develop some form of cancer.

Let’s just think about that for a moment. That means there could be an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer in the U.S. alone. That’s pretty scary, but thanks to advances in medical science and programs at gyms like yours, people are living longer, healthier lives with a cancer diagnosis.

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Regular exercise can work wonders for those that have been diagnosed. It can lower the risk of colon cancer by over 60% and could offer a 50% reduction in the risk of breast cancer recurrence. This means you could see more cancer patients or survivors visiting your club.

To help you navigate this landscape, we’ve put together a list of seven tips you can use to make cancer patients and survivors feel welcome and make the most out of their health club experience.

7 Things Your Gym Can Do for Cancer Patients and Survivors

1. Offer a clean, safe, and welcoming facility

A doctor or other health professional’s primary concern when referring his or her cancer patients is the safety and well-being of those patients. They will look for a club that is clean, safe, not intimidating to their members, and staffed with knowledgeable people ready to help their patients succeed.

2. Consider a flexible training plan or program

For someone undergoing cancer treatment, the ability to exercise depends on treatment schedules, medicine side effects, and fatigue symptoms, among others. Consider a plan or program that allows flexibility in attendance and training to accommodate more challenging days or weeks.

3. Feature low-impact programming

Many cancer patients suffer symptoms like fatigue and nausea as side effects of their treatment. Consider offering low impact options like yoga or tai chi to encourage attendance on more difficult days.

4. Address nutrition and diet

Cancer treatment or the cancer itself can have an impact on diet, with many treatments resulting in unintended weight loss. Consider offering dietitian services (if you have an R.D. on staff) to cancer patients and survivors as part of their membership or program fee.

5. Offer a structured program

Large health clubs can be intimidating to many people, especially those who aren’t feeling their best. Providing a structured program offers a guided introduction to the club, and exercise with instruction and support that can be less intimidating.

6. Foster opportunities for support and community

Offer regular opportunities for participants to meet with other people going through the same challenges, such as a weekly support meeting or adding 10 minutes of discussion or sharing to the beginning of training sessions.

7. Help keep the focus off cancer

Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone undergoing cancer treatment is to help them restore some normalcy. Try not to put too much focus on cancer care, and make an effort to ask about hobbies, interests, and other topics.

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Alexandra Black Larcom @ihrsagetactive

Alexandra Black Larcom, MPH, RD, LDN, is the Senior Manager of Health Promotion & Health Policy for IHRSA. She spends her days working on resources and projects that help IHRSA clubs offer effective health programs in their communities, and convincing lawmakers that policies promoting exercise are an excellent idea. Outside the office you'll most likely find Alex at the gym, running on the Charles River, or, in the fall, by a TV cheering on the Florida Gators.