For cancer survivors, fitness might be the last thing on their minds. Since February 2012, the Earlywine Park YMCA in Oklahoma City has helped more than 120 cancer survivors focus on fitness to improve their cardiovascular health, balance, flexibility, agility, self-efficacy for exercise, and most importantly their confidence and self-esteem, all through the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program.
One of the cornerstones of the 12-week small group training program is using the Y’s Octane Fitness equipment: the xRide xR6000 recumbent elliptical and the Pro4700 standing elliptical with SmartStrideTM.
“A lot of the survivors have medical issues they’re dealing with, and some also struggle with obesity,” said Aline Bristol, Health and Wellness Director at the Earlywine Park branch. “The Octane recumbent elliptical is so user-friendly for them while also being above the fitness level of the recumbent bike, which barely burns calories at all.”
The participants start LIVESTRONG at the YMCA – which is a research-based physical activity and well-being program designed to help adult cancer survivors reclaim their total health – with baseline tests, so at the end the Y can verify visible improvement. The next step is to get them comfortable in the fitness center, over the course of a couple weeks. Once they’ve got their fitness center routine down, including an orientation to the Octane machines, the Y creates an “exercise prescription.” This includes exercising in the fitness center once a week, and on the other program day, group exercise classes, yoga, cycle and water aerobics are mixed in.
Bristol trains her staff to try and interact with the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA participants during their fitness center days, to create more connections within the Y. The program aims to provide participants a supportive environment and a feeling of community with their fellow survivors, Y staff and members. The Y staff calculates each participant’s ideal heart rate zone using the Karvonen formula, and discusses using the Octane machines to achieve it.
“The recumbent elliptical works fantastic for this population, because a participant might put forth the effort to come to class, but isn’t feeling high energy,” Bristol said. “At least I can get them on a recumbent elliptical and see them moving, because every single person feels comfortable on it. The program is customized on an individual basis; someone may need the lower-end of exercise because of issues with mobility. But 100% of the time I can get someone comfortable on the recumbent elliptical. They might say, ‘my knees don’t feel right,’ but then I tilt them with the height adjustment and I can get the response ‘this feels great!’”
Bristol also uses the Octane Pro4700 because it measures a participant’s individual stride length.
“You get a client with shorter legs on another elliptical, and their feet go numb and they hyper-extend their knees,” Bristol said. “So the SmartStride helps avoid all those issues.”
Bristol is known as “the Guru” of the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program, and has even grown the program to implementation at 8 out of 12 branches of the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City. The program is a benefit of the association’s annual community support campaign – totally free. Plus, if a participant attends 75% of the program, he or she will receive a one-year adult membership at no cost.
The program is marketed by referrals through doctors, and Bristol even pounds the pavement to get the word out, visiting local hospitals to talk with nurses and hand out fliers. All the staff at the branch front desk also know how to speak about the benefits of the program in case someone mentions their battle with cancer during a conversation. Additional goals also include decreasing depressive symptoms and reducing the severity of therapy side effects.
To bring a program to your YMCA branch, contact LIVESTRONG at the YMCA. The branch will receive support materials for cancer survivors to guide them through the process. There is no licensing fee to the LIVESTRONG Foundation, and Bristol has received unlimited wristbands, guidebooks and promotional materials.