Sweating Your Way Through Cancer Treatment 

Written by Sydney Valentino, M.Sc. Kin., Cycling Instructor, and Ph.D. Student at McMaster University   

Dear Carley’s Angels Community, 

If you’re reading this, you already know the inspiring story of Carley Allison, known for her ever-lasting internal strength and inspiring outlook on life. Many people knew her love for skating, though less known was her talent in many other sports, like running (especially long distance), volleyball, and horseback riding. She had an awesome attitude for competition and whenever her skills fell short, her relentless will to practice and continue to challenge her abilities would set her up for success. 

My memory of this is especially vivid when I think about Carley kneeling at her school locker, with her seemingly always unzipped and overflowing purple Lululemon gym bag full of multiple outfits, searching for the correct one amongst all the clothes that prepare her for a workout in a rink, a gym, or a field. 

My love for getting on a good sweat started long before Carley Allison was in my life, but it was especially exciting to have someone as passionate about exercise as I was. In grade 11, we took a grade 12 Exercise Science course (now known as Introduction to Kinesiology) together, because we just couldn’t wait until grade 12 to take it. And since then my passion for learning about how the body adapts to exercise has only grown since. 

If I lost you at exercise and it seems like the last thing you would do to get rid of cancer-associated fatigue, TLDR; you might benefit most from getting your sweat on!  

Skipping forward 8 years, I have completed an undergraduate degree in Science, a master’s degree in Kinesiology, and now, I am pursuing a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in Kinesiology, all at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario. I truly never expected to study the effects of exercise on the body as in depth as I currently am, and now looking back, I realize my passionate athletic friend had quite the lasting impact on my life trajectory. 

It’s only been recently that I have felt the need to share what I know about how exercise can empower you in many ways, including the impact it can have on cancer outcomes. These ideas are not new, but the evidence is becoming more compelling. 

Exercise can be part of all stages of life, with and without cancer. It can be used as a preventative strategy for many types of cancer (see picture below). Focusing on people fighting cancer, exercise can be used as pre-habilitation (before cancer treatment to increase strength and resiliency), during and throughout cancer treatment (such as improving fatigue and quality of life), and post-treatment rehabilitation (such as regaining physical function).  


There are many benefits to exercise (see citation using link below), with the strongest evidence showing cancer patients who exercise 3 sessions per week of 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise(ie. Walking/running, biking, elliptical at a pace that gets you sweating), as well as 2 sets of 12-15 reps of major muscle groups leads to reduced fatigue and increased quality of life.For example, the resistance exercise might include leg flexor and extensor muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings), such as 2 sets of 12-15 reps of body weight squats and lunges, and 2 sets of 12-15 reps arm flexor and extensor muscles (biceps and triceps), such as push-ups and tricep dips. 

Three tips I have on finding what exercise is right for you: 

1)    Find an exercise you like to do– moderate intensity aerobic exercise is anything that gets your heart beating, forehead starting to sweat, and when you are unable to speak in full sentences because your breathing is quick. Some examples of other exercise, is dancing, skipping, and playing sports.

2)    Do it with friends and family– if there is a game involved you are more likely to get competitive and enjoy the fun. Family and friends can motivate and help encourage you when you need it most. 

3)    Any exercise is better than no exercise– there is no need to get fixated on the perfect “30 minute” workout, if you want to break it up into 10-minute chunks, you might be more motivated to get started. Something I always tell myself when I least want to go for a run is to get outside and run for 5 minutes and if I still hate it, I can walk home. Often the biggest challenge is getting my running shoes on, and I usually end up enjoying it.

More recently, I went to two conferences and exercise as medicine for cancer patients was its own topic at both. At one, a doctor presented on the challenge to incorporate exercise as part of the short amount of time they have with each patient. If this is something you haven’t thought about and it is important to you, ask your doctor about it. Your interest in exercise as medicine will help initiate the conversation and is important to ask about the particular considerations and benefits to your individual (or a loved one’s) experience with cancer. 

Sending good vibes your way, 



Exercise and Cancer Guidelines: www.bit.ly/cancer_exercise_guidelines

Thank you for reading, if you’d like to read more of Sydney’s writing on the effects of exercise and aging, check out this blog: https://miratrainee.wordpress.com/

If you want to reach out and chat more, feel free to email Sydney at valens@mcmaster.ca

Working to unite Traditional and Holsitic Cancer Care in Hosptials while spreading Carley’s Message of “always smile”

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