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Hiking, Climbing, and Other Outdoor Activities for Cancer Patients

Cancer patients and recent survivors in remission are often in a weakened state. Their bodies have been deeply affected by the cancer and the treatments used to slow the progression of the disease or achieve remission. While rest is important, there is also evidence that people actively going through cancer treatment and those in remission can benefit from physical activity and exercise.

There is also important evidence that being outdoors is good for overall wellness and mental health. Cancer patients can get the benefits of both exercise and being outside by engaging in activities like hiking and rock climbing. Every patient should try these activities only after getting the go-ahead from their medical teams, though, and should engage in them at their own pace, starting very slowly if necessary and relying on professionals for guidance and support.

Cancer Patients and Survivors Need Exercise

Regardless of the type of activity, the consensus from experts is that cancer patients and cancer survivors need and should get regular physical activity. Guidelines were established by a panel of experts after reviewing the research to determine that avoiding inactivity is one of the most important things that cancer patients and survivors can do to promote wellness and healing.

The research demonstrates that cancer patients who get some exercise have less fatigue and can function better overall than those who do not. They maintain healthier weights and feel better about their bodies. They benefit from improved cardiovascular function and muscle strength. The ultimate benefit, though, is that cancer patients and survivors who get regular physical activity score better on quality of life measures. The expert advice is that, if possible, all patients going through treatment and survivors of cancer should get regular exercise to a degree that is appropriate for each individual.

Hiking, Mountain Climbing, and Outdoor Sports

While it may seem that these are extreme sports for patients going through cancer treatments, outdoor activities can be scaled down to meet each individual’s abilities and limitations. It is also important to clear any new activity with your medical team before trying it. Because these sports are more challenging than others, they may be better suited to patients in remission who are already finished with treatment. But, those still in treatment can start getting some exercise now and work toward these exciting outdoor sports as something to look forward to and to work for:

  • Hiking. Hiking refers to any extended walk outside on trails. A hike could be as easy and simple as a one-mile stroll on the nature trails in your city park, or as involved as a multi-day, hundred-mile trek through a national park. Hiking is a great activity for cancer patients because it is done outside and it can be scaled up or down to match an individual’s abilities. As patients get stronger, they can increase the length and difficulty of hikes.
  • Rock Climbing. You can safely practice this activity indoors but also take it outside for an adventure when you’re ready. It involves climbing up and down rock faces, either on real rocks, cliffs, and mountain sides, or on indoor artificial rock walls. This can be a safe sport if you work with professionals and the right safety equipment.
  • Bouldering. Bouldering is a type of climbing that usually doesn’t involve using ropes, although they can be added for safety, and that is typically done in groups. It can be a fun and challenging social activity but one that not all cancer patients may be ready for. If you’re interested in this sport, you can practice on a gym climbing wall and with a trainer first.
  • Mountain Climbing. Mountain climbing or mountaineering is a much more involved sport that combines hiking and rock climbing to actually reach the peak or a specific height on a real mountain. This is an activity that is pretty strenuous and that requires a lot of practice and training. It’s something that patients recovering from cancer can work toward as a goal for the future and as they get back into shape after being sick.
  • Geocaching. For physical exercise, mental stimulation, getting outdoors, and a group activity, it’s hard to beat geocaching. This is a great sport for cancer patients and survivors because it doesn’t have to be very strenuous. Geocaching involves using GPS and coordinates or clues to find a cache, or treasure, that another participant has hidden somewhere outdoors. It’s both a game and a social sport.

Why Outdoor Sports?

Any type of exercise is recommended as long as it is safe, but there are some additional reasons that some patients may choose these outdoor activities. Simply being outdoors, but also being out in nature are great reasons. These are sports that require you to go beyond the city streets and parks and further out into areas where you can really experience nature and get away from it all. And being out in nature is proven to be good for mental health. Cancer patients and survivors are at risk of struggling with stress, depression, and anxiety, but time spent outdoors can provide a significant mood boost.

Outdoor activities like hiking and geocaching are also typically social sports. Engaging in social activities is good for anyone, but for cancer patients who maybe struggling with isolation or depression, getting active outdoors with other people can have huge benefits. Social activities promote stronger relationships and new friendships, and reduce isolation. A strong social network is important for both physical and mental health, boosting mood, improving cognition, and even increasing survival rates in people with cancer.

Outdoor sports like hiking and rock climbing have the potential to provide significant benefits for cancer patients because they offer physical activity, time outdoors, and socializing. There are benefits to physical, mental, and social health, but patients undergoing treatment and those in remission should take care not to overdo it. While exercise and socializing is important, for some patients, these particular sports may be too strenuous.

If you are interested in outdoor sports, talk to your doctors to find out what your limitations are. Even if your doctors currently don’t recommend these sports, you can start smaller. Start working with an experienced trainer now to get the benefits of physical activity and to work toward your goal of being a mountaineer or of going for a long hike.

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