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Pilates during Cancer Treatment

Pilates during cancer treatmentPilates is a low-impact physical fitness system that consists of a series of exercises that develop the body’s strength, flexibility, and control. Pilates exercises can be easily modified to suit practitioners’ limitations and abilities. It makes sense, then, that Pilates can be used as an important part of maintaining wellness for those currently undergoing cancer treatments, or those in recovery from cancer.

By isolating different muscle groups, Pilates exercises develop strength in the body’s “core” muscles in the abdomen and back, and increase overall flexibility and coordination. Pilates exercises can be done with no equipment but a mat, moving just the body in a series of movements with focused attention on breathing and muscle control. Pilates exercises also emphasize concentration and breathing, making it very relaxing, with benefits similar to other low-impact exercises like yoga.

The National Cancer Institute explains that exercise in general has been shown to be beneficial to cancer patients undergoing treatment and in recovery. However, many forms of exercise may be too high-impact for those suffering from fatigue and muscle weakness as a side effect. Pilates is a viable option for cancer patients because it is low-impact and features exercises that can be easily modified to suit a patient’s needs and abilities.

Pilates can be a powerful aid to cancer patients during any stage of treatment. Pilates expert Mari Winsor, interviewed for, explains that patients currently undergoing chemotherapy may experience an energy boost from Pilates. Winsor also explains that Pilates can help patients feel stronger, have better circulation, and at the very least can help relieve the stress of treatment and recovery.

The Stanford Cancer Center offers a Pilates class as part of their Cancer Supportive Care Program because of their understanding that Pilates can be highly beneficial for the healing process. Their class covers modifications to Pilates exercises designed for cancer patients or survivors. Similar classes are available at other cancer treatment centers, gyms, and specialized studios throughout the country.

For patients with mesothelioma or other cancers, Pilates offers the benefits of stress reduction as well as gentle strengthening and flexibility training. Engaging in Pilates following a mesothelioma prognosis or similar cancer diagnosis can help create an increased quality of life and promote faster recovery for current patients and survivors.

By · Posted on August 16, 2011 · Topic Front Page, Health, Industry Insider

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6 Responses to “Pilates during Cancer Treatment”

  1. Melissa Turnock on August 17th, 2011 8:18 am

    I am speaking of breast cancer in particular here, but I realise this article is about cancer more broadly.

    My experience of chemo was that there was no way I was going to do any Pilates. It was too taxing and I needed every ounce of energy to assist myself heal after each treatment. The Pilates knowledge I have as an Instructor came in handy in the weeks before and 4 weeks after the breast surgery, post chemo. Of course everyone is different, the individual will let you know if they are up for Pilates while on cancer treatment.

    Perhaps the magazines and websites should talk to women about Pilates during treatment to women who are undergoing, or have been through cancer treatment, not the Pilates ‘expert’. I am a little tired of reading about Pilates and cancer and hearing the words of Pilates instructors who haven’t even been through cancer treatment. And there are plenty of us out there who have, Pilates Instructors get breast cancer too, ask us and you will get more of an understanding about how it can be used and what a wonder it can be to assist physical/emotional recovery after breast surgery. I was thrilled to have that knowledge to help me recover and now help others.

  2. Katharine Barber on August 18th, 2011 1:14 pm

    Thankfully I can’t speak from experience as a woman who’s experienced breast cancer or the treatment women endure. I have complete admiration for the many women who have been treated for breast cancer I have encountered as a Pilates instructor. I have taught classes specifically for breast cancer survivors of different ages and stages. Some could only sit on a chair and join in the breathing at first. What I did appreciate was that i couldn’t plan my class in the way i usually would. There was always positive energy and lots of laughter because the women felt better,either because of the bteathing and movemnt or because they’d just made it to the class and socialized.
    I have taken various cancer excercise specialist trainings. The most empathetic professional I learnt from was PJ O’Clair from Stott Pilates.P J truly cares about the person not only illness. Her compassion leaves the room with you and stays with you when teaching.

  3. Christine Cooley on August 19th, 2011 5:01 pm

    After originally going to my family doctor (she had thought the lump on my shoulder was a harmless fat deposit), as did the first surgeon , until he removed it. Most doctors may only see this type of cancer once in their careers. My Pilates instructor trainer and the Physical Therapist connected to the Pilates studio, encouraged me to investigate the lump futher. They may have saved my life, as the lump turned out to be Synovial Sarcoma, a rare, agressive form of cancer. I began treatment with a top notch team of doctors specializing in Sarcomas. My treatment has been a surgery, then two cycles of chemotherapy (each cycle was five days in the hospital and 16 days rest). Then, I had to have another surgery as the first surgery was done incorrectly and didn’t have clean margins, then two more cycles of chemo. Now I will start six weeks of radation, five days a week. The chemo would take up to a week to recover from. Once I felt well enough to exercise, along with walking, I began doing up to an hour of Pilates a day. I have my own reformer with a tower. The Pilates helped so much to relieve my fatigue and depression. The gentle exercises helped me to restore my strength and keep my flexiblity. The concentration needed to do the exercises helped me to recover from the side effects of chemotherapy, such as memory loss. It also helped me to relieve some of the stress involved from going from a very healthly person to a cancer survivor. I still have my six weeks of radiation to go. One of the radiation side effects is extreme fatigue. The fatigue from cancer treatment is similar to being too tired to pick up my toothbrush. The fatigue is not relieved by rest. Everyone is different in terms of if they feel up to exercising. Pilates for me, when I feel up to it, has been a wonderful therapy for my recovery and my long term cancer survival. Cancer has helped me to reset my priorities in life and learn more about teaching Pilates to help cancer survivors cope with the immediate and long term side effects of cancer and the treatments.

  4. Suzanne Kendall johnson on August 19th, 2011 7:47 pm

    I too am a pilates instructor and cancer patient. At age 47 I was diagnosed with transitional cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of bladder cancer. Up until the day before my diagnosis I was teaching mat and reformer while having some gnawing pain in my left side and blood in my urine. My primary care doctor thought the odds of me having cancer where slim to none. I was healthy in every other way. Needless to say it was devastating to learn I was not immune to this disease. I had to enter treatment immediately and had to stop working. I remember feeling really frustrated when I’d hear of other cancer patients being able to exercise right through treatment when I could hardly walk from my bedroom to the bathroom 15 feet away. I’d have to stop and rest just to make the journey to brush my teeth. I think now that how physically active you can expect to be depends on a lot of factors. For example how aggressive is the treatment and the sugeries? Sometimes focusing on fitness is not appropriate during cancer treatment and can add to feelings of despair when you can’t do what you did before with ease. The great thing about pilates though is that when you do feel ready you have thousands of choices of exercises to try. There are modifications for everything and you can work up to your pre-cancer fitness level one step at a time….when you are ready. I’m still undergoing treatment after 21 months but am happy to say I currently feel very healthy and im starting back to teaching tomorrow. I can only take a day at a time and hope this healthy feeling lasts. I can now also say I have a lot more empathy for students dealing with a serious illness and can help them feel better safely.

  5. Light Exercise Building Fitness With Cancer - Healthy Family Fitness on April 4th, 2012 12:24 am

    […] about the class should discourage you if you are new. Pilates is as effective as it is relaxing. It increases circulation, speeds up metabolism and works on even lengthening posture aside from strengthening […]

  6. North Perth Pilates on October 24th, 2012 11:48 pm

    It’s good to know that Pilates can help cancer patients to get back on their feet and fight against the cruelness of cancer. Since it is a low impact type of exercise anyone can commit to it and still regain their strength back and sense of calmness and balance.

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