Moving Bodies, Changing Lives
Moving On Aerobics helps women regain joy of movement and physical fitness after a cancer diagnosis.
Dr. Martha Eddy, exercise physiologist and founder of Moving On Aerobics, is aware that, for some, the term aerobics may conjure up images of bouncy, spandex-clad fitness buffs. Still, including the term in the title of the dance exercise program she created for cancer survivors was essential. “The reason we emphasize the word aerobics,” Dr. Eddy says, “is because it’s actually this aerobic challenge and working with the aerobic threshold that is the piece in the exercise world that we saw was missing. We saw yoga out there; we saw some range-of-motion activities. But to deal with fatigue and with lymphedema, there’s a need to get the heart pumping.”
Since the program’s inception, research has continued to provide evidence of the importance of aerobic activity for cancer survivors, and, Dr. Eddy says, “The research is now bearing out that not only is it important in survivorship, it’s important in prevention.”
Originally inspired by Dr. Allison “Annie” Stern Rosen, who found that gentle dance was the only movement that offered relief and provided hope following her treatment for breast cancer, Dr. Eddy created an exercise program for women living with cancer, designed to help manage fatigue, weakness, weight gain, depression, lymphedema, joint or bone pain, and other common issues that survivors often experience on the road to recovery.
Currently, classes are held in New York City through Gilda’s Club, SHARE, St. Luke’s Hospital, and Roosevelt Hospital and in Oakland, California, through the Moving On Center. Plans are under way to soon offer classes in southern New Jersey; in the Washington, D.C., area; and in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Eddy says that a DVD of the class will also be forthcoming, which will be a welcome addition for those who want the option of working out at home.
The content of each class generally includes gentle stretching followed by slow-building, rhythmic dancing designed to “awaken and enliven [participants’] bodies in a way that is truly joy filled,” followed by a final stretching sequence and a time devoted to personal sharing among the class. The subtle, easy sequence of movements and the pace of the class can be especially helpful for post-surgical breast cancer patients, Dr. Eddy says, because the exercises are designed to “lubricate and return fluidity and range of motion to the shoulder and rib cage region, where surgery may have occurred.”
Participants vary in age from teenagers to women in their eighties, although most classes have a core group that ranges from 45 to 85 years old. The fitness level and the recovery stages also vary, but, Dr. Eddy stresses, care is always taken by the instructors—a third of whom are survivors themselves—to evaluate each participant on a personal basis and emphasize the individual nature of recovery.
The transformations that participants undergo, Dr. Eddy says, are truly remarkable—from range-of-motion improvements, increased aerobic capacity, and strengthening to the inward and outward expression of an elevated mood. “Folks really do talk about just feeling so much better—so endorphins really seemed to have kicked in. There’s been a shift in posture, so students appear to no longer be depressed. You not only feel it, you look different.”
In addition, for many survivors there is the simple yet profound gift of a renewed relationship with their own bodies and a recognition of the joy of movement and of dance. “It’s invigorating to see people become excited about movement when perhaps they identified as nonmovers before,” Dr. Eddy says. “It’s fun to have them report back that they now dance at social occasions. It’s also wonderful to feel their generosity and new connection to life. This appreciation of the class has both a primal and a wise quality to it.”
For survivors, many of whom struggle to integrate movement in their lives during recovery, Moving On Aerobics provides a compassionate and gentle space in which they can become reacquainted with their bodies and reclaim their strength. As one participant said of the changed perspective that her participation provided her, “At first it was hard to look in the mirror because what I saw was a wooden body struggling to move. After a few months, I liked the reflection in the mirror, my body moving with a quality approaching grace.”