NEW YORKKeeping fit and eating right is no easy task for the
millions of Americans who are overweight and out of shape. For cancer patients,
it requires specialized know-how as well as determination, according to experts
who gave advice during a Cancer Care, Inc. teleconference on ways to battle
Eileen Donovan, PT, MEd, manager of rehabilitation services, M. D. Anderson
Cancer Center, and Marilyn Joyce, MA, RD, president of 5 Minutes to Health, Los
Angeles, addressed exercise and nutrition, respectively, during the hour-long
Ms. Donovan urged patients to consult their physicians before starting an
exercise program. If they have difficulty with basic activities such as bathing
or have a specific heart, nerve, or muscle problem, she suggested that they
also seek recommendations from a rehabilitation professional, such as an
occupational or physical therapist.
"If you have disease in your bone, your doctor may want you to avoid
certain activities," she said. "If you have loss of feeling or stress
in your leg, you should see a rehabilitation professional and make sure that
you can exercise without hurting yourself."
Cancer patients also need to assess what they want to do and why they are
having difficulty, she said. For example, if a patient can’t carry groceries,
the cause could be weak muscles or lack of stamina or both. Another common
problem, shoulder tightness after surgery, usually requires exercises to
restore flexibility rather than strength. If getting up from a low chair or
commode is the goal, however, weakened leg muscles need to be strengthened.
Whatever the exercise regimen, Ms. Donovan recommended starting slowly and
increasing the duration or the intensity of the activity over time, but not
both at once.
A patient might figure out how far she can walk comfortably for 10 minutes
at baseline, for example. After a week, she might try to walk farther in 10
minutes, or walk at the same speed for 11 or 12 minutes. Similarly, a patient
might practice getting up from a chair that poses no difficulty, such as a
dining room chair, several times a day for a week and then progress to chairs
that are slightly lower.