As director of Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colo., part of Reid Hayward’s mission is to investigate exercise and nutrition as an intervention for symptoms related to cancer treatment.
Hayward and his students offer one-on-one coaching three days a week at the cancer center, he says. Think of them as cancer personal trainers. “Once we get the patients in here,” Hayward continues, “they’re hooked.”
“Other centers give them a handout. We give them an initial assessment of balance, strength and endurance, and then reassess every three months.”
He witnesses the benefits of working out during and after treatment, but he’s not surprised that patients aren’t lining up at the door before treatment starts. Most “are overwhelmed by too many other things with a higher priority.”
So, when he doesn’t have enough trial participants, he and his team work with rats to study aerobic conditioning and the effects of chemotherapy.
It’s difficult to apply lessons learned in animal trials directly to humans, although many physicians recommend light exercise to reduce certain treatment-related effects, such as fatigue and depression. Hayward is convinced that “the protective effect of exercise” can have a lasting impact. He suggests—only half-kiddingly—that patients receiving chemotherapy might be well served to “jog to treatment.”