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How to Exercise Smart

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In order to exercise smart, consider the following guidelines:
  • Talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program or restarting after a long period of rest - especially if you are in treatment or in a recovery period. 
    • In addition to asking whether you can exercise in general, find out what exercise you can and cannot do, how hard to push or not push yourself, and what problems you may run into. 
    • Do not be surprised if the doctor asks you to take some formal tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) or a cardiac stress test. 
  • Ask your medical providers if your cancer center employs an exercise physiologist or offers classes or if any local community organizations provide exercise programs for cancer survivors.
  • A physical therapy prescription may allow you to learn an exercise regimen which is individualized for you. Physical therapy is likely to be covered by health insurance.
  • Always keep in mind:
    • Focus first on safety; If something feels uncomfortable or hurts, don’t do it. 
    • The effects of any drugs you are taking. For instance:
      • Pain medications, including aspirin, can mask pain that would otherwise tell you to stop. 
      • Anti-depressants can also dull your perception of pain. 
      • Diuretics can lead to dehydration.
  • Plan to make exercise a habit. 
    • Regular exercise is needed to get the most benefit.
    • Put exercise time on your calendar - and keep to it. If you think of exercise as part of a medical regimen, you may think twice before skipping sessions.
    • When setting the amount of time to exercise, take into account your health condition as well as your physical condition. It's easy to overdo exercise - especially early on. It makes you sore and tired and may keep you from continuing.
  • Start slowly. 
    • For example, walk, jog or cycle for 30 minutes a day once a twice for the first week. Then increase your efforts by 5% to 10% each week. 
    • Look for easy ways to get more exercise. For example, take the stairs. Paint the house.
    • Aim to be exercising for four hours a week by the end of six months. 
    • To learn about walking, see: Walking Works at offsite link
  • Set small, simple, doable, goals for yourself so you can achieve them. 
    • Expecting too much too quickly may make it easier to give up.
    • When you achieve a goal, acknowledge it. For example, buy yourself a little gift such as a CD.
    • After achieving the goals that you set, re-evaluate and set new ones to keep you moving forward and to keep your program interesting.
  • If you are looking for an achievable goal, shoot for a heart rate that is right for your age. 
  • Learn about eating and exercise. The guide, Eating For Exercise, was written for people with HIV, but the information applies to everyone who exercises. See: offsite link
  • Keep hydrated. 
    • If you're dehydrated, your  heart must pump harder to get blood to your muscles. 
    • Heidi Skolnik, a sports nutrition consultant, recommends drinking one cup of water or a sports drink before your work out and another during your workout. A more vigorous workout may require more fluids.
  • Exercise with a buddy if possible. Buddies help keep each other motivated. It can be difficult to exercise alone, especially on days you don't feel like exercising.
  • Hiring a trainer can help keep you motivated as well as maximize your work out. 
    • A trainer can tailor exercises to your body and your goals.
    • Trainers are schooled in teaching the correct way to perform specific exercises. 
    • Trainers are schooled in treating injuries. They are not generally schooled in learning about illnesses.
    • If you cannot afford a batch of sessions with a trainer, perhaps you can find one that will help you create a training program in one or two sessions. (One to set the program and the second to check on your form and tweak it.)
  • Exercise while you do something else.  For example:
    • Ride a stationary bike while talking on the telephone or watching t.v.  
    • Turn housework into an exercise. Set a timer to ensure that you move for 30 minutes straight which is the recommended amount of moderate intensity daily exercise. (You may have a timer on your smart phone.) Upbeat music can help. Going up and down stairs helps. If you don't have stairs, consider doing a squat each time you bend to pick up something.
  • Continuity and regularity count. It's better to do less exercise consistently than to do more exercise once in a while.
  • Do not feel guilty if you miss a day, week or even a month.
    • Guilt leads to stress. Stress is not good for your body or your spirit.
    • Just plan a time when you can get back on track. Congratulate yourself when you resume.
  • When determining which exercise to do, consider the amount of energy each exercise burns. 
    • In general, studies show that the more vigorous the exercise, the greater the benefits. 
    • You can measure energy used in metabolic equivalent task (MET) hours. One MET hour is the equivalent of the energy expended by the body during one hour of rest. You can use several MET hours of exercise during one real time hour. For example, one hour of doubles tennis is equal to 5 MET hours. To see a list of activities and the MET hours each generates, see: offsite link
  • Keep track of how well you are doing. 
    • There are a variety of apps for your mobile phone  and smart devices you can wear on your wrist to help you keep track. 
    • If you want to keep track on your own, easy to-do measurements are:
      • Weigh yourself.
      • Track body mass index (BMI). You can do the math by going to the web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and plug in your height and weight. offsite link. You can find "normal" BMI at the website of the National Institutes of Health at offsite link
      • Check your heart rate. Inexpensive heart rate monitors are available at sporting goods stores. If you don't know your target heart rate, use the following formula:
        • Maximum heart rate (MHR) = 200 less your age
        • Target heart rate: Lower limit  = 0.6 x MHR
        • Target heart rate: Upper limit: = 0.8 x MHR
      • A pedometer which measures how many setps you take during an exercise session or other period of time.  You can purchase an inexpsneise pedometer at a sporting goods store or on line.
  • Avoid becoming overly fatigued.
    • Alternate periods of activity with a rest break.
    • Decrease the intensity, duration and/or frequency of a session.
  • Be intuitive about your body. If it doesn't feel right, don't do it. There are usually alternative means of accomplishing the same goal.


  • Readjust your exercise program if you begin to lose weight.
  • Call your doctor if you experience any discomfort.

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