Walking. Now there’s a word we often hear during treatment for breast cancer. “Go for a walk.”
“Walking is good exercise during treatment.”
“You can’t beat walking as exercise during cancer treatment.”
“Make sure you exercise: walking is a good one.”
But seriously, going for a walk is often the last thing that you feel like doing whilst you are undergoing treatment for breast cancer. I get it. I felt like that. All I wanted to do was to hide under the duvet and get on with my boxset binge watching. But my husband nagged me, my mother nagged me, my chemo nurses nagged me and my oncologist always asked “are you exercising?” So, I gave in: I peeled myself off the sofa, tied up my trainer laces and stepped outside. And I walked. And then I walked some more. And then some more. And a little more after that. Until I was getting myself out of the house for a little walk every single day. On some of my rough post-chemo days I might only make it 300 metres along the road, but on other days I could walk for half an hour. And some days I even managed two walks (I know, crazy eh?!).
And yes, it did make a huge difference to me during my treatment. I would go so far as to say that walking literally turned my life around during chemo and radiotherapy, and it continues to have a huge impact even now whilst I recover from those treatments and get on with my new post-cancer life (which currently includes Herceptin and tamoxifen). We have even added to our family by the arrival of a puppy – so now I have even more of a reason to get out for a walk every day.
I now get what everyone is talking about when they suggest that you go for a walk. So here is my list of the top five reasons to get your trainers on and go out for a walk:
1. Firstly, and most obviously, as a gentle form of exercise walking can make you feel so much better because you are getting your heart pumping, your body is producing feel-good chemicals called endorphins and you are using your muscles, joints and bones (so if you are not doing as much activity on a day to day basis, walking will at least get these working).
2. Going for a walk means that you are outside and so you are breathing in the fresh air (ideally you would walk somewhere without cars and traffic so you are not inhaling the exhaust fumes). Take a few deep breaths. Get that oxygen deep into your lungs.
3. We all know that breast cancer can pile on the pounds. The combination of steroids, eating for comfort and laying around because you are feeling truly awful all contribute to the inevitable breast cancer weight gain. Walking will help combat this: it might not help you shed all the weight but it will help with it.
4. It is exhausting having breast cancer: chemo fatigue, radiotherapy fatigue, anxiety, stress and lack of sleep all add to the general tiredness that you can experience. But walking helps reduces tiredness. I found this hard to believe before I embarked upon my walking regime, but seriously, it does.
5. And the final point I am going to make in favour of a good old walk is that it is incredibly good for your mental health. There is no doubt that breast cancer plays upon your mental health. It is such a stressful time for us: scans, chemo, thoughts of recurrence, thoughts of survival, financial worries, menopausal anxiety, stress and fear are a few of the issues that we have to deal with on a day to day basis. But getting out in the fresh air and going for a walk somehow or other helps to improves your mood. Maybe it’s because walking gives you time to gather your thoughts and put everything into perspective. Maybe it is because walking provides a distraction from these fears. Or maybe it is because going for a walk allows you to look around at the bigger picture that being out in nature provides.
So here are a few little tips about getting yourself out of bed, off the sofa and into the fresh air:
1. Start with short walks and start slowly. Walk to the end of your garden and back. Walk to the end of the road and back. You can build up the time and distance gradually.
2. Try to go out every day. There are so many excuses not to go out: it’s raining, it’s cold, I am too tired, I haven’t got time…. I know because I used them all. Don’t make these excuses.
3. If you can manage two 10-minute walks on the same day, then great.
4. Gradually build up the distance. It isn’t a race, and it isn’t training for a marathon so don’t put yourself under any pressure and just do what your body allows.
5. Go with a friend or family member – they are good for motivation. My mum forced me out of the house every day for a walk. Maybe you could make an arrangement with a friend to walk every Monday at 9am and with other friends for the rest of the week. You know those friends who tell you “If I can do anything to help, please let me know, I honestly mean it”. Well, this is what they can do to help you.
6. Vary the places where you walk. If you are going with a friend, they could drive you to a nice place to walk – perhaps a nearby National Trust garden, the beach, local woodland. Somewhere different. If you get bored of walking the same old routes then you are less likely to have the motivation to get out.
7. Once you have the walking bug and can’t get enough of it you could consider joining a local walking group: maybe Nordic walking or the local rambling association.
And you know all those charity walks in aid of breast cancer and other cancers that you see advertised all over the place? Why not join in? Why not sign up for one this year with Breast Cancer Care? This year Breast Cancer Care have a walk suitable for everyone. From climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to walking 26 miles across London in the middle of the night to a pink ribbon walk in a beautiful setting, there is something for everyone. Not only will you be getting some fantastic exercise (and even more so if it is a walk for which you have to put in some training) but you will also be raising money in aid of a great cause, you’ll be walking in a beautiful location and you’ll meet lots of lovely people at the event.
This year, Breast Cancer Care are putting on two pink ribbon sponsored walks. In May there is one at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire which is either 10 or 20 miles. And in June there is one at Audley End, Essex, again either 10 or 20 miles. All you have to do is register, raise at least £100 (which goes to Breast Cancer Care) and turn up (with your dog if you like).
What’s stopping you? I’m up for a pink ribbon walk so I’ll see you there!