BY LIZZY SMITH
In October 2012 I had just finished up the second of my tandem stem cell transplants. I was weak, just starting the healing process, and lacked a frightening amount of muscle tone. Pre-myeloma, I was a runner and had very strong legs. A year later, they were vanishing and I hated it. My dad randomly mentioned a new spa near our home and that we should go check it out. We went to lunch and afterwards stopped by. A Bikram yoga class was in session. I never heard of Bikram before and I was intrigued—a beautiful room with mirrors, hardwood floors, an entire wall that overlooked a peaceful garden—and some 50 people doing all kinds of cool poses in a room heated to 107-degrees.
I asked the front desk employees if this was an appropriate activity for someone like me– just coming out of chemo and needed to start working out again. She said yes, I purchased a monthly membership, a mat and towel, and some yoga shorts and jog bra. I attended my first class the next day. Still bald, I wore a wig and sweated like crazy for 90-minutes. I managed to stick it out the entire class and do most of the poses (not well, but I did it!). Within a week, I got brave and went wigless. No one gaped at me in a bad way—just the opposite. Many women gave me hugs and encouragement. It was my piece of heaven. I meditated, stretched, and learned breathing techniques. I started strengthening my core.
You know what that class gave me? A sense of empowerment. It made me feel good, strong, resilient– inside and out. And it was so necessary because I was broken– physically, mentally, and emotionally. This was a huge part of my healing process. And because I found a new passion and remembered how great it felt to break a sweat and exercise, I also started power walking. Within a month, I was up to eight miles. I could hike up challenging trails.
Exercise is critically important to us myeloma survivors and caretakers. Its benefits are numerous, both physically and emotionally. Even during treatment, we should do what we can, but moving is important. If that means a stationary bike, a short walk, yoga poses from our hospital room—it all counts. The healthier we strive to be, the more treatments we are eligible for. Our bodies respond better, we heal faster, and it helps combat depression. Mentally and physically, it makes us stronger. Strong is good, especially if one has an illness.
Here are just a few benefits that exercise brings:
- It helps rid our bodies of toxins: I don’t know about you, but sweating out the poisons I dump into my body with all my medications feels amazing. Breaking a sweat boosts circulation, which helps detoxify. Also, exercise boosts oxygen to the skin.
- It helps us lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight: Enough said– no further explanation needed on this one!
- It helps us have healthier skin and hair: I don’t know about you, but I’ll do just about anything to get my hair growing faster.
- It helps us de-stress. It helps slow our resting heart rate, relaxes blood vessels, and lowers blood pressure. Exercise also helps combat depression, stabilizes mood, and actually makes us happier by releasing endorphins. During exercise, plasma levels of this substance increase. Working out also boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which are chemicals that send specific messages from one brain cell to another. Though only a small percentage of all serotonin is located in the brain, this neurotransmitter is thought to play a key role in keeping your mood calm.
- It helps build muscle: Studies show that for each pound of muscle, one burns an additional 35-50 calories per day. That means that an extra five pounds of muscle on your body will help you burn about 175-250 calories a day (which means an extra pound of fat every couple of weeks!).
- It helps keeps bones strong: This is something we myeloma survivors really need to pay attention to—bone health. This is a great reason to add lifting weights or strength training to your exercise routine.
- It helps boost our immune system: What myeloma patient doesn’t need a stronger immune system? Exercise keeps even that part of our bodies strong.
- It helps us meet new people: Try a new workout that includes surrounding yourself with others. Whether it’s joining a running club, an exercise class, or simply walking the track at a rec center, working out can be incredibly social, helping us meet new friends and not feel isolated.
- It helps us sleep better: Generally, I refrain from working out right before bedtime. But any strenuous activity during the day will leave you far better able to get good, quality shut-eye, and adequate sleep is really important for health.
- It improves memory: I still struggle with “chemo” brain so if the doctors tell us memory improves with exercise, I’m in.
While staying motivated to get moving can be challenging, especially when we’re distracted or not feeling that great, I can’t think of a single time I’ve regretted it. The hardest part of my workout? Often it’s actually putting on my workout gear! It’s one day at a time, one step at a time. But, trust me, our bodies need it.
Need inspiration? Join Muscles for Myeloma!Register Today
Have you joined Muscles for Myeloma yet? If not, you should! By doing so, you’ll get daily tips workout tips and join others in the myeloma community from around the country– building muscles and supporting an amazing cause. Muscles for Myeloma is helping myeloma patients, family, caregivers and friends get more fit. Fitness matters to myeloma patients who are now being segmented into fit, unfit and frail categories for treatment. The more fit the patients, the better treatments they will receive for better outcomes.