Saturday, 6 July 2019

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Exercise

“We are finding new ways of keeping moving, and celebrating smaller achievements like walking a kilometre rather than running a marathon, sailing a cruiser instead of a dinghy, or cycling on an electric bike rather than a manual one.”

This week our discussion focused on exercise, particularly dance, and how it can help us to feel and cope better with the side effects of cancer and it’s treatment. 

The benefits of exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle are well documented, and it makes common sense that a fit body will contribute to a resilient mind. Our group, which is made up of women with both primary and secondary breast cancer diagnoses, were interested in the specific ways in which dance and exercise help us to feel better. 

Naz explained that exercise may lead us to feel more positive, energised and lighter. Our brains work more efficiently and this, in turn, can lead to better emotional regulation. Exercise can lift our spirits as it releases neurotransmitters in the brain which increase the brain’s reward responsiveness, which may become dormant when we are depressed.  

We shared how we had used exercise, relied on exercise, tried exercise for the first time, given up and restarted exercise, become positively addicted to exercise. Some of us stopped exercising during treatment - either because we felt too poorly, or as rest became a priority, some of us continued as much as we could, while others stuck to a gentle toned down routine. 

For those of us who love exercise and have a strong routine, a breast cancer diagnosis can be extremely frustrating as we may have to modify both frequency and intensity. Treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy may put a stop to exercise, and fatigue is a very common problem. When we feel weary, forcing ourselves to get up and move is difficult but may be as energising as rest, and many reported feeling lethargic when they missed a few days of exercise. 

For many of us, exercise is a pleasurable part of our lives.  It may be running or walking, swimming, yoga, horse riding, sailing, gardening, cycling, climbing, rowing, caving, dancing. Any activity that involves repetitive movement can be helpful on many levels. It can also be a mindful meditative practice, calming the mind while working the body. More challenging activities that require co-ordination of mind and body, such as more formal dance where we are learning steps and routines, are an excellent mental as well as physical workout. 

The joy of moving our bodies to movement is evident in the comments from those of us who participate in dance. We listed ballroom, tap, ballet, disco, belly & salsa, and many of us have trained for medals and performances, adding the extra dimension of formally recognised achievements to the mix. Zumba is increasingly popular, and many different fitness through dance classes are now available. Music touches us emotionally and dancing brings our bodies closer to our brains and increases the fitness of both. It brings a sense of freedom as we lose ourselves in the music and move, as well as discipline as we learn new moves. Dancing to the radio whilst doing the household chores is also very popular for us! 

We reported feelings of wellbeing associated with all types of exercise, including a sense of release, of alleviating worries and anxieties. Team games can help with feeling cameraderie, a part of something. Exercise has brought a better night’s sleep for many of us, helping us to feel physically refreshed and rested. Many find it’s helpful in managing anxiety. 

Some of us are continually frustrated that since being diagnosed with cancer we are unable to exercise as much as we used to, with some activities proving impossible due to fatigue, aches and pains, and lymphodema (swelling in the armpits, chest and arms as a result of breast cancer treatment.) We felt that there is a need for advice and physiotherapy to help us and offer individually tailored advice.

Although finding it hard to accept the changes in activity levels forced upon us by cancer, or by the side-effects of our treatment, we are all focused on what we can do rather than what we can't do. We are finding new ways of keeping moving, and celebrating smaller achievements like walking a kilometre rather than running a marathon, sailing a cruiser instead of a dinghy, or cycling on an electric bike rather than a manual one. We keep trying, we stumble, we start again, we never give up. When we feel weary and beaten, a gentle stroll around the block can completely change our mood. 

A breast cancer diagnosis can undermine our confidence, and our eagerness to join in with group exercise can wane as a result. However exercise can also help to rebuild that lost confidence, and many of us have managed to join classes, gyms or teams. For others, walking in nature with friends, a dog or on our own provides peace and calm, and escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

A breast cancer diagnosis brings fear and anxiety. For some of us there comes the question - what’s the point? We may put all sorts of things on hold, including our exercise regimes, while we recover physically and emotionally from the trauma of our diagnosis. Once active treatment is complete, many but not all of us, reported that feeling able to get back on track and exercising again can feel like one step on the path towards feeling good again.

Exercise related goals and achievements can make us feel good about ourselves, whether we complete a marathon or manage 10,000 steps a day, it doesn’t matter.   There may be days when getting off the sofa and shuffling round the house may be a huge effort, and when we have down days, moving can really help us feel we’ve accomplished something good. 

As an extra positive, a few of our members were inspired by our discussion to get out there and exercise after and reported back about how much better they felt.  However hard it feels initially, moving our bodies undoubtedly helps our minds to function better, so making the effort to find something we love to do is well worth the effort.

If you’re a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group please send us a private message via the public Facebook page. 

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