Do you recommend water exercise for cancer patients?

John Malinowski, ATC, CET

Exercise in a pool is inherently different than on land because of the water’s properties. It offers buoyancy and the water supports us, assists movement and causes resistance, which is when strengthening occurs.  The effect of hydrostatic pressure in the water helps reduce any edema or swelling — even if you’re just sitting on the steps in the pool. It’s like a mini-massage all the time…that’s why water work is so beneficial for people with lymphedema.  So what are the reasons why water offers such a valuable avenue of rehabilitation?  We can use the water with all its magnificent ramifications and powers. As the water supports the body, it enables movements that might otherwise be impossible. This in turn increases pain free range of motion. Another characteristic of water that makes it beneficial for treatment is resistance. Water is much more resistive than air. This resistance provides weak muscles with needed strength training. The increased range of motion and pain free resistance allows patients to improve quicker in water than they would on land.

As part of an exercise regimen, the water fitness program works to decrease body fat, increase lean body mass, increase cardiovascular fitness, increase range of motion (especially with the chest and shoulders), prevent lymphedema, decrease stress, and provides a whole body workout. Treatment goals include reducing the pain by breaking the pain-spasm-pain cycle through the relaxing effects of the water and creating a sense of “whole” body again. Fatigue is a common result of the disease and side effect of some treatments. Water exercise allows you to do more than you can on land therefore increasing your energy level and stamina. Even if your range of motion, strength, and endurance may be at a level you are happy with water exercise is a great way to maintain your level of fitness. One of the often overlooked elements to a water fitness program is the ability to interact with others and find support and connection to others who have similar experiences with cancer.

Benefits of Aquatic Therapy: improves range of motion, increases muscular strength and core stabilization, enhances oxygen and caloric consumption, works balance and coordination, general relaxation, joint flexibility, promotes circulation, pain reduction, joint distraction or unloading, athletic enhancement.

The cancer water program is structured like many water programs, but there is a significant focus on strengthening the chest, shoulder and back muscles. A typical class might include a 10-minute warm-up that involves walking in waist- to chest-deep water and utilizing a variety of progressive hand/arm movements. Concentration is given to basic breathing throughout. You will next work through a variety of stretches, jogging and/or walking within the pool, with a dedicated focus on your weakened muscles. Stretching and cool-down include external and internal arm rotation, shoulder flexion and abduction, followed by lower body stretches.
Additionally because I believe in the whole person approach — body, mind and spirit — I know that the whole person is affected by thoughts and emotions such as; denial, pain, fear, restricted range of motion, fatigue, loneliness and depression. Therefore, the classes end with a focus on centering and mindfulness, asking each participant to release the stresses of their day.

We are excited to be able to offer our popular and rehabilitating Aquatic Exercise class at Allan Hancock College. To get started please contact John Malinowski to schedule your fitness assessment and space is limited so please reserve your spot in the class today. Our next classes will be held on August 20th and 27th. John can be reached at 805.346.3413 in Santa Maria and 805.474.5334 in Arroyo Grande. A fitness assessment is required to attend.

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