Exercising Caution - Stay Safe at the Gym

January 5, 2012

Cancer Today

Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH, an associate professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, is quoted in a Cancer Today magazine story about the important role of exercise among cancer survivors. Although research around the ways in which physical activity may help ward off cancer recurrence and post-treatment side effects is increasing, Schmitz notes that the findings are often presented to survivors out of context and without full details – which can do more harm than good if patients start exercising without proper medical or fitness guidance. For example, in 2010, Schmitz and her colleagues reported that breast cancer patients who lift weights safely may reduce their risk of developing lymphedema. Upon hearing this news, many survivors rushed to their local fitness centers to pump a little iron. “If a woman hears this information and lifts weights that are too heavy,” cautions Schmitz, “she could actually get lymphedema by overloading the ability of the lymph system to move fluid and respond to the stress of lifting.” That fact may be scary enough to keep survivors from exercising at all, the story notes. But cutting exercise out isn’t the answer either. “There is a risk to not exercising, so putting up barriers to exercise is the last thing I want to do,” says Schmitz, who is also the lead author of the American College of Sports Medicine’s guidelines about exercise for cancer survivors. “But keeping survivors out of harm’s way is important as well.” Some cancer survivors probably don’t need any specific evaluation before they exercise, she points out, but there is no system in place to distinguish them from those who do. “It’s absurd that we have 12 million cancer survivors alive in the U.S. and we do not have any kind of system to guide survivors or assess how their treatment might alter the type of exercise they should undertake,” says Schmitz... Read More