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Walking for Exercise With Cancer

I never thought I would count myself as one of “the walkers,” the legion of exercisers who blaze sidewalks and trails to sharpen their fitness. But, following an autologous stem cell transplant four years ago, walking has become the foundation of my personal cancer patient exercise regimen.

Buring calories on my bike

I have always been serious about my physical conditioning, and for thirty years, the bulk of my cardiovascular exercise centered on road-cycling. In addition to benefiting my heart and lungs, riding my bicycle burned the calories that allowed me to eat and drink as much as I wanted, and, quite frankly, I enjoyed eating and drinking more and more.

Cycling kept me fit. I’d crank out 2,500 or so miles a year, and I went on some epic riding adventures. I completed the California AIDS Ride, a seven-day, 575-mile trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles, as well as the Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day, a 155-mile ride that included three mountain passes.

An accident on the road to my diagnosis

But, a funny thing happened on my way to getting diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Still riding while my medical team was trying to determine the root cause of my anemic blood values, I suffered an accident that knocked me unconscious, broke my eye socket, and left me with another scar on my brow.

Okay, so not funny in the ha-ha sense; more like the interesting sort of funny.

Before I could get back onto the bicycle, winter came, and with it, my multiple myeloma diagnosis. Then, after my induction therapy, I underwent my stem cell transplant that brought me into early 2020 and our global COVID-19 pandemic.

Walking as a cornerstone of a cancer patient exercise program

Recovering from my stem cell transplant, I took regular walks, but they were more activity than conditioning exercise. It was then that I stumbled across a Facebook post of a friend of mine referring to one of her resolutions, the “1,000-Mile Challenge,” where her goal was to walk 1,000 miles over the year.

Accepting a challenge

Now, that challenge was something I could get motivated around. I’ve always been very metric-driven in my exercise routines, including on the bicycle. And, breaking it down, 1,000 miles a year is just 2.74 miles a day. Of course, that’s each and every single day. Therein, however, lies the rub.

If you miss one day, you have to walk 5.5 miles to make up for it. Miss two days, and you owe 8.25 miles just to stay on pace for your goal.

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommended adults with chronic conditions perform 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity weekly. Walking satisfies the aerobic component and is associated with improving high blood pressure and lowering the risk of diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.1

Getting started with walking is as easy as it gets. Depending on a person’s fitness level, walking speed, duration, and frequency are easily adjusted. An added bonus is that no special equipment is necessary, save pairs of comfortable shoes.

Walking pace is an important variable. A moderate intensity level is generally thought to be a pace of 2.5 to 4.2 miles per hour. Research shows the faster your walking pace, the greater your potential health benefits.2 However, a healthy walking pace isn’t as fast as you might think. A Physicians’ Health Study in 2019 found the greatest health benefits were in those who walked 3 mph or faster, but those who walked 2.0 to 2.9 mph also saw a protective benefit as compared with those who did not regularly walk.3

Measure the goals you want to achieve

I got a late start on things with my first 1,000 Mile Challenge in 2020. I didn’t see my friend’s post until mid-February, so I was already way behind. As a result, I did the only thing I could: I pursued my goal one step at a time. Literally.

Relentlessly walking to reduce my deficit, I finally caught up on August 24. On December 11 — the birthdate of my friend who posted the challenge in the first place — I surpassed the 1,000-mile mark. That first year, I finished with 1,047 miles walked at a relatively pedestrian pace of 16:18 per mile.

That first year, I discovered that walking roughly an hour a day gave me time; time to listen to music, time to organize my thoughts on writing music, articles, and books, and time to connect with the wonderful world outside of my windows, walls, and doors.

Hooked on walking

Being goal-oriented, I set off to surpass 2020’s metrics in 2021. I wanted more miles at a quicker pace. That year, I walked 1,151.62 miles at an average pace of 15:17 per mile. In 2022, I raised the bar even higher — 1,160.18 miles at an average pace of 15:08.

This past year, I finished with 1,204.33 miles at a 14:59 minute pace, and wore through four and a half pairs of shoes in the process. Now my 1,000 Mile Challenge has become my personal 1,200 Mile Challenge!

Won’t you consider joining me on the roads, sidewalks, and trails this year? I’ve got good news for you. Since 2024 is a Leap Year, you only have to average 2.73 miles a day!

If you can, give it a try. Take that first step, and follow it up with another and another. As part of your daily routine, you’ll not only feel stronger and healthier, but you’ll feel better about yourself too.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Blood-Cancer.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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