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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 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.

Wellness Cancer Column

The Data Linking Regular Exercise and Cancer Treatment

Regular exercise can be an important health strategy for cancer patients and survivors.

A study published in the journal Cancer linked higher fitness to lower risk and better outcomes for lung and colorectal cancer. When compared to their less active peers, people in the study's highest fitness category had:

  • a 77% decreased risk of developing lung cancer,
  • a 61% reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer,
  • a 44% lower risk of dying from lung cancer for those already diagnosed, and
  • an 89% lower risk of dying from colorectal cancer for those already diagnosed.

A study published in the journal BMJ Sports Medicine found a link between running and lower risk of death from cancer and heart disease. The research found any level of running participation could help reduce a patient's risk of death, including:

  • a 27% lower risk of all-cause mortality,
  • a 30% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, and
  • a 23% lower risk of dying from cancer.

We've put together a list of seven things you can do to help 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 to a club 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 their 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 their more difficult days.

4. Address nutrition and diet

Cancer treatment—in addition to the cancer itself—can have an impact on diet. Many treatments can result in unintended weight loss. Consider offering dietitian services—if you have a registered dietitian 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 your club. Exercise with instruction and support can be less intimidating for patients.

If your club already offers cancer programing, please add it to the Moving Through Cancer exercise program registry. This database aims to connect patients, families, healthcare providers, and others with exercise programs in their communities.

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. Make an effort to ask about hobbies, interests, and other topics.

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Author avatar

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.