Exercising usually isn't at the top of a cancer patient's to-do list. Between hospital appointments, chemo, and sometimes surgery, often there's little time or energy to devote to physical fitness. But a program at the Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness and Integrative Health Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) helps patients understand the importance of physical fitness during and after treatment.
It's called Personal Optimism with Exercise Recovery, or POWER, and it works.
"Study after study shows that exercising during and after treatment reduces cancer recurrence rates and improves your overall health and survival," says Darren Walker, exercise physiologist at HCI.
The POWER program is an "exercise prescription." It starts with an initial assessment of the patient, looking at balance, flexibility, range of motion, and strength. The patient meets with an HCI physician who looks through their entire health history and clears them to exercise. Then an exercise specialist builds an individualized program for the patient. Exercise specialists guide the patient through the program, which includes workouts at the Wellness Center and at home. They follow up to help patients reach their goals.
Farley Eskelson was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a form of leukemia, in 2013. His body rejected his first bone marrow transplant, and he spent many months waiting for and recovering from a second transplant. He says, "I lost a lot of muscle mass. I've been trying to get my strength back so I can do the things I love to do."
Farley met with Darren, who created a plan to help him regain his strength and increase his lung capacity. Farley goes to the Wellness Center twice a week and is slowly but surely getting back to his old self. He has a ranch and was recently given the all-clear to ride his beloved horses again. "Cancer takes a portion of your life," he explains, "but you have to fight back. That's what I'm doing by keeping fit. It's made a huge difference for me."
Farley's fitness routine focuses on gaining muscle, but there are dozens of ways patients can improve their fitness at the Wellness Center and in outdoor group activities. Zumba classes, yoga, Pilates, resistance training, and rowing are some of the activities available. "A lot of our patients have a variety of different complications or health challenges, so our approach is really overall health for those individuals," says Darren.
Ultimately, the exercise specialists at HCI hope to help patients get through cancer and take control of their health for years to come. "Being healthy and physically active has a long-term impact on being able to move forward with your life," Darren says.
Get more information about the POWER program at HCI's Wellness and Integrative Health Center, including class schedules and seasonal activities.
Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, which means it meets the highest standards for cancer research and receives support for its scientific endeavors. HCI is located on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and is a part of the University of Utah Health Care system. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers, among others. HCI also provides academic and clinical training for future physicians and researchers. For more information about HCI, please visit www.huntsmancancer.org.