I am a 67-year-old woman, recovering from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The disease and chemotherapy caused me to lose 2½ stone rapidly. I would like to maintain the weight I am now, but my body has aged 20 years, with wrinkled skin and loose flesh hanging everywhere. Can you recommend any exercise to help?
After going through the trials of cancer and chemotherapy, your body will really appreciate some TLC in the form of good nutrition, exercise and plenty of rest. As you will be well aware, recovery from cancer can be very up and down, so don’t be disappointed if progress is slow in the early days.
Rapid weight loss is never good, because it almost always involves muscle loss, not just the extra fat you were carrying. The disease, treatment and any lengthy periods of inactivity may all have added to muscle wasting and loss of body tone or shape. Weak muscles always add to general tiredness, too.
The weight loss and the illness /treatment will also have played havoc with your metabolism, which affects appetite and weight control.
Be aware that as your appetite and body’s function return to normal, you are likely to regain some of your lost weight. If you haven’t already seen a nutritionist, ask your consultant or the GP about this, because they’ll be able to give you sound advice on balanced eating for best recovery. Your body needs good nutrition to help it rebuild bone, muscle and skin, and to bring your immune system up to full strength.
There is no magic cure for the saggy, baggy effect of loose skin. But regular, moderate exercise is your best route to recovering all-over muscle strength and tone.
Start gently: maybe a 10 to 20 minute daily walk. As you regain stamina, you should aim to walk for longer and at a more brisk pace. Next, try adding in a weekly swim session: if your knees, shoulders and neck-joints are all pain-free, then breast-stroke would be excellent for all-round toning up, including your bust. Alternatively, try a beginners’ water aerobics workout – tough but huge fun.
The build-up of exercise should help in all sorts of ways: better sleep, brighter outlook, more energy. As you get closer to your pre-illness “normality”, consider joining a gym or community exercise class. At the gym you’ll get the chance to do weight training, which will help enormously to bring your muscles up to good tone and reduce the saggy effects. A well-taught seniors’ class of pilates or circuit training will achieve similar results – provided you go a couple of times a week.
Here’s the big trick: by building your body back up with exercise, you are helping to maximise “lean” body mass rather than your previous “fat mass”. This way you can afford to put on some of that dropped weight because it’s helping to make your body firmer and better defined (and keeping your metabolism up, too). So a few pounds more in weight is going to feel and look like a few years less in age. Not a bad trade-off!