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How to Motivate Yourself to Exercise as a Survivor: 4 Quick and Easy Tips

by Jennifer AnandSurvivor, Hodgkin’s LymphomaDecember 3, 2018View more posts from Jennifer Anand

Meet Jen Anand. Every week Jen will be providing a new tip or two on approaching life during and after cancer to help inspire others. Jen was diagnosis with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January 2012, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments for 8 months. Jen is now a survivor and just celebrated her 5 year anniversary this year as cancer free!

The Akron Marathon was yesterday.  As in past years, I’ve known numerous friends who have run the marathon, the half, or the relay.  I once tried to run the relay. I HATE running. Like loathe it to no end. But my best friend was forming a relay team, and they had really cool t-shirts, so I signed up for the shortest leg of the race, which was a little farther than a 5k.  And I trained. I dragged my tired butt out of bed every morning and began walking the distance of my relay leg. And I increased my speed. Soon, I could actually do something resembling running! I ran with a friend in the running club. I ran the marathon leg route once.  I was going to do this! The day before the marathon, my lingering cough worsened. I called Oncology, who asked me to come in. I excitedly told them I was going to run the next day. Unfortunately, just a few weeks earlier, they had detected some heart issues (thanks Doxyrubicin!). In the end, they asked me not to run, to be safe. Talk about crushing disappointment. Everything I had worked so hard for months on hand coming crashing apart.  

Long story short, I didn’t run that race, or any since then.  I’ve always been a big girl. I ignored my cancer symptoms because I was *finally* losing the weight I didn’t want! But exercise and fitness is extremely important to anyone’s well-being.  Exercise is hard though – it’s hard for me to work up the motivation to put myself through something that’s going to make me more tired than I already am! A growing tide of advice is to stay active during treatments/after treatment.  And many (myself included) can attest that some activity does help you feel better in the long run. I just came back from a walk in the brisk fall air, and found the motivation I needed to finish this article! So a few thoughts on exercising…

Be gentle on yourself.  Running can be hard on your joints. Our bodies have been poisoned and pushed to the very brink of life, give it a break.  I was encouraged to try swimming, as a gentler, yet equally effective exercise. I took a few swim lessons, and just started walking in the water.  It gave me the cardio I needed, while quieting my screaming joints.

Be kind to yourself.  We’ve been through hell.  Maybe you were a fitness nut pre-cancer.  Don’t expect to pick right back up. I tried to do weights once I was back at the gym post-cancer.  When I saw the incredibly low weight I could do, compared to my pre-cancer body, it was like a punch in the gut. You’ll get back there in time, but allow yourself time to heal and recover.

Be proud of yourself. This is always the hardest thing for me.  I don’t celebrate the little victories. I’m usually focused on the big-picture goal, and hate myself for taking so long to get there.  That’s not a helpful attitude. I need to remind myself that today I walked one mile without being out of breath, and I should be proud that I did that TODAY. Tomorrow, I can push myself further, but I need to celebrate what I can do right now.  Tonight, I kept up with my athletic friend, as we walked around the neighborhood- something I couldn’t have done a year ago! I have a Fitbit, which helps in these small victories. I can look back on my rougher days, and see how few steps I walked, or how much active time I got. Those numbers can be so encouraging- it’s a quantifiable result that my body is improving!

Be supported by yourself. JK, NO- involve others! Maybe it’s another cancer friend. Maybe it’s a parent or partner. Maybe it’s your online followers! My parent’s gym had a sign for a “chronic/severe illness” group.  It sounded perfect for my post-cancer body! I excitedly went…and found out I was the youngest person by easily 60 years. However, there are many programs that are designed for cancer people, and for those closer to our age! The Livestrong Foundation has a 12-week program offered at many rec centers.  The Ulman Foundation has a 5k training program that you can do in person, or online! The American Cancer Society offers a training course for personal trainers, that many are starting to take. These are the ones I’ve participated in, and just a very few of the programs available to us. Google what’s around you! Community is so incredible and very necessary.  

Maybe you don’t need this post.  I have a cancer friend who is crazy in-shape, and works out, even through cancer.  She’s an inspiration to me, and following her fitness journey, through chemo and everything, is a nudge for me to be more active.  Maybe you’re this type of person. Encourage the people like me. The ones who find it hard to be active, or are too tired to make it out to the gym.  We are our own best resources and support system, because we can understand better than anyone what we are struggling with. Jim Rohn once said, “Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.” He’s right, you know.

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