Customize Your Exercise Plan

Customized exercise is about changing an exercise movement to fit how you feel on a given day, to accommodate for any physical or other limitation you may have.

You will feel very different on the day after you complete treatment than you will months or a few years later. You can still exercise at any point during that time, but the way that you exercise should look different. The first week after treatment you might walk very slowly from the couch to the mailbox and back. A month later, you might have the energy to walk slowly around the block. A year later, you might walk around the block 4 times.

Activities such as cleaning or gardening also count as exercise. When your body is recovering, it takes much less effort to feel physical exertion, but that effort is still good for you, no matter how small. The following suggestions will help you “read” how you feel at any given moment, and then customize your chosen exercise to match your feeling.

For example:
  • If you feel sick, exercise may help decrease nausea. Exercise when you feel sick should be gentle, slow and brief.
  • If you are fatigued or extremely tired, exercise may give you energy (if it is gentle, slow and brief). You can always do more on a day when you are not so tired.
  • If you are not sleeping well at night, exercise during the day may help you sleep better.

Step I: Customize

Here is the ultimate Movement Motto that allows you to exercise no matter how you feel:
  • If it feels good, do it! If it feels bad, customize it!
You can replace the word “good” with safe and the word “bad” with unsafe: If it feels safe, do it. If it feels unsafe, customize it. You can also replace the words “good” and “safe” with comfortable and the words “bad” and “unsafe” with uncomfortable.  Working-out muscle tension will often feel good, while pain will feel bad. Muscle tension will feel like “safe” soreness, while pain will feel like “unsafe” soreness. Working-out the tension should not feel painful.

Step II: Keep Moving

The goal is to find a way to do some version of the movement, rather than no movement at all. Instead of saying “I can’t,” learn to say “I can figure out how to customize that movement so it feels good to me.” Keep trying little changes until you find the action that is right for your body. Remind yourself that it does not matter what others are doing or what you used to do in the past. Your muscles, level of fatigue, nausea, bone strength, etc., may be different now, so there is no need to compare yourself to anyone else (including your past self). Anything you do to improve your current physical health will be valuable.

Step III: Energy: Aim for Gain vs. Drain 

Customize your exercise to match your current energy level. Determine the amount of time and effort you can put into exercise each day based on how you feel that day. Combine this with doing the movement in a way that feels good. The trick is to be able to keep yourself moving during your exercise time. Keep adjusting the movements so that they feel good and safe to you, and exercise within your current level of energy and physical ability. 

Step IV: Talk Test

While you exercise, take a moment to notice if you are working too hard. Practice talking in full sentences. If you can talk in full sentences without getting short of breath, you are working at a safe level. If you cannot talk in full sentences without getting short of breath, you are working too hard, and maybe even at unsafe levels. Remember, if you work too hard, you will drain energy rather than gain energy.

Step V: Deep Breathing: LOW and SLOW

Learn to breathe low in your belly, at a slow pace.
  • Deep breathing relaxes tension
  • Oxygen allows muscles to work
  • Deep breathing energizes you
The goal is to feel good, be safe, and gain energy!

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