When you first start any exercise, it’s difficult to know how much is too much. Including our dogs in our exercise routines not only helps keep us on track, but its good for our well-being. When we exercise regularly, our dog lets us know it is time for our walk!
Safety tip: Make sure your dog is not going to jump on you when you begin, so as not to knock you off balance. Begin with a short 4 foot leash – a retractable leash. use the arm opposite the side of your breast cancer surgery to walk your dog. purchase a small ‘backpack’ for your dog to carry items for walking. While not necessary, it can be very helpful to lighten your load. Small backpacks are available at most large chain pet stores. They will hold your cell phone, poo bags, hand sanitizer, and some will even hold a small bottle of water. This will reduce your risk of contracting lymphedema if you just had surgery, are in treatment, or even in survivorship. Plus it gives your dog a little job. Our dogs love to help us and putting on their backpack gives them a job to do. You can try it out and if it doesn’t work, return the backpack. Check out the return policy before purchase to make certain at the store. if you have a very small dog this May not be an option. A very small dog would require you to carry these items. In that case, the super fashionable belt bag May be the way to go. 😉 The belt bag will take the weight off of your shoulder and allow you to focus on your balance and your walk with the dog.
When starting any exercise program, begin slowly – with far less expectations than you may have envisioned. Initial success is really important, particularly after breast cancer treatment so don’t come out of the gate with a run!
It is so important to begin slowly and steadily and to develop a routine that you enjoy. The goal is to make exercise a part of your life. Starting slowly is key, whether you were active before your diagnosis, are receiving treatment, or your treatment has ended. It isn’t reasonable to think you can pick up where you left off before you were diagnosed with breast cancer. If you begin too quickly, you may injure yourself, get over-sore and want to quit, or just get too tired. Getting fit and staying fit takes time for anyone. Your body responds differently to exercise after cancer treatment. Side effects, like fatigue, change the way your body responds to exercise and increased demands on your energy.
If your dog is very active, playing a game of catch in the backyard can be a good option to tire him or her out before you go for your first walk. Also the motion of throwing the ball may be good to improve the range of motion of your arm.
ALWAYS check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Check with your physician if you have any restrictions. If you do, for example, have surgery on your right side, walk your dog on your left side. If you are post surgery, throw the ball to your dog with your left arm up to 6 weeks post surgery. Again, always check with your doctor.
Returning to exercise after a time of inactivity and harsh cancer treatment is going to be different for each person. For example, some people experience neuropathy, or numbness and tingling in their hands or feet. Neuropathy affects balance, walking and nearly all activities of daily living we do on our feet. But, with time, patience and persistence, you can learn how to exercise despite these limitations. This is another reason it is important that your dog does not jump on you and throw off your balance. It is simply not safe.
Why are you exercising? To lose weight, reduce fatigue, or increase your balance and strength? Define your goals to make success certain. Your goals need to be something you can plan, measure, and follow. Reasonable and attainable exercise goals will help you follow through with activity.
You must also allow for rest days. Your body will need to rest and recover and may take more time than before a diagnosis. Remember, don’t start with a run.
Instead, follow this example of a beginning exercise routine for a walker with a calm dog:
Monday – Active Recovery Day – Move your body as it was made to move, more of a stroll and very gentle (15 minutes)
Tuesday – Slow walking to warm up the body for 5 minutes. Interval training will work the heart and lungs to increase the heart rate as well as our breath. So, add bursts of energy in increments of 10 seconds by picking up your pace and then go back to slow walking. Repeat as often as you feel enough energy. Cool down by walking at a leisurely pace for 5 minutes. This also allows your dog to learn to follow your lead and stay by your side for direction. The dog is not just walking at the same pace all the time.
Wednesday – Endurance walk at a steady pace for up to 15 minutes to start. Or you can walk for 10 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the afternoon. This will depend on when you find you have some energy. It is always a good idea to get outside!
We are lucky to live in San Diego because the weather is so mild. Every time you feel well enough to walk, take advantage!
Thursday – Warm up 5 minutes with a slow walk and then walk up to 15 minutes. Recover for a cool down of 5 minutes
Friday- Rest day or active recovery (stroll around your neighborhood or put your dog in the car and take him to a park for a walk).
Having a dog as an exercise partner provides gives an added benefit of preventing isolation. When walking your dog, other dog walkers will usually say hello or want to pet your pooch!
Saturday/Sunday – Walk and push your pace just a bit. Add some short hills or a little challenge with a friend.
Keep an exercise journal to track your progress or use the free online tool MyFitnessPal.com. There are also many apps for Smart Phones.
It sounds counter-intuitive but exercise actually reduces fatigue. Strong scientific evidence proves that exercise is important during cancer treatment and necessary in survivorship. Taking your dog along makes exercise fun! So get fit together!
I will be writing ongoing at Pink Paws to share fitness tips, ideas and safe ways to exercise with your dog. Stay tuned. For more information on cancer fitness go to my website at PacificCancerFitness.org
Gotta love dogs,
Susan Webster is a breast-cancer survivor and Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer