FitSteps for Life offers health rewards for cancer patients
By Jan Jarvis
FitSteps for Life at UNTHSC
Learn more about how to participate in FitSteps for Life at UNT Health Science Center.
Before she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Candice Stinnett had never been to a gym or had any knowledge on how to start a nutritious diet.
Now eight years cancer-free, Stinnett said the disease is the one driving force that motivated her to reinvent her lifestyle.
“Cancer is my ‘why’,” she said. “I didn’t want my son to grow up without a mother. So I dedicate every day starting a 5 a.m. to solely invest in my own physical health.”
Stinnett believes so strongly in the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet that she is thrilled to learn other survivors will soon be able to get the same rewards though FitSteps for Life.
“I wish there was a place like this when I was diagnosed,” she said. “Regular training is one of the best things you can do to maintain good health.”
The FitSteps for Life program, which opens June 11 at UNT Health Science Center, is tailored to meet cancer patients’ needs. Through sponsorship from the Cancer Foundation for Life, Rutledge Cancer Foundation and HSC Foundation, the free program provides supervised exercise sessions to any cancer patient or survivor. Partnerships with Cuisine for Healing and Shine Therapy add to the program by offering healthy meals and oncology massage.
The program not only promises health benefits, but it can be empowering for cancer patients. And it is HSC’s way to partner with them, fight cancer one step at a time and create solutions for healthier living, said Nicoletta Bugnariu, PT, PhD, MBA, Vice Provost, Community Engagement & Service.
“People often feel like they have little control when a cancer diagnosis enters their lives,” she said. “But this program is one thing that they can do to take control of their lives and increase their chances of survival.”
Studies have shown that exercise can help increase a cancer patient’s chance for survival. In one study, breast cancer patients who did moderate exercise three to five times a week were 50 percent less likely to die than those who did little or no exercise.
Working out three or more times a week has been shown to improve strength and endurance, physical and mental function, immune system function, flexibility and balance. It also reduces fatigue, depression, anxiety, and nausea and mental fogginess.
By providing supervised exercise training, FitSteps takes the guesswork about what kind of exercise is safe and effective for someone who might be recovering from surgery or undergoing chemotherapy.
A specialist helps them decide on intensity, duration and type of exercise. If they can only do 10 or 15 minutes, that is where they start, Dr. Bugnariu said.
“If they are in a wheelchair, then they can do upper-body exercises,” she said. “We can guide them on what is safe and how much they can do.”
Safety measures not found in a typical gym also will be taken, such as monitoring blood pressure during exercise. The atmosphere is also more comfortable than a typical gym might be for someone recovering from cancer.
After a session, cancer patients can continue to stay on a healthy course by picking up nutritious meals. The Cuisine for Healing Outreach Food Program is providing free meals designed to bolster the immune system, clear the body of toxins and help the person recover faster. The program is offering five meals per week for up to 10 weeks at no cost to FitSteps clients.
Shine Therapy will offer oncology massage, which has been shown to ease the emotional and physical stress of treatment and recovery. Oncology massage therapists have been trained to understand the body changes caused by chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, and are sensitive to cancer survivor’s needs.
Initially, FitSteps will be open three days a week with plans to expand to a full week depending on volume of patients. Cancer survivors need a referral from their health care provider to participate in a session.
Stinnett said she hopes survivors will take advantage of the valuable resources FitSteps for Life soon will offer to the Fort Worth community.
“Before cancer, my life lacked discipline with diet and exercise,” she said. “Cancer helped me look at life in a healing way, eventually propelling me into a permanent life of being physically fit and healthy.”
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