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Exercise is MedicineTM: A resource for oncology nurses

The importance of daily physical activity and exercise is being increasingly recognized, and government agencies, professional organizations, and community groups are all seeking ways to get adults and children up and moving.

The importance of daily physical activity and exercise is being increasingly recognized, and government agencies, professional organizations, and community groups are all seeking ways to get adults and children up and moving. These efforts are being embraced by health and fitness professionals alike, all of whom are constantly seeking resources to help guide, encourage, and promote proper physical activity in those they counsel, including people with cancer.

In 2008, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) launched an initiative called Exercise is MedicineTM, which was co-founded by Ronald Davis, MD, immediate past president of the American Medical Association, and Robert E. Sallis, MD, immediate past president of the ACSM. The purpose of this initiative is to make physical activity and exercise a standard part of the medical paradigm for disease prevention and treatment. Sadly, Dr Davis passed away shortly after founding the Exercise is Medicine initiative because of pancreatic cancer, but his belief in the benefits of exercise never wavered. It is reported that shortly after receiving his diagnosis, Dr Davis gave a presentation at a medical conference while walking on a treadmill, which serves as a strong testament to his belief in health promotion even in the setting of a grim diagnosis.

So, how is Exercise is Medicine applicable to oncology nurses? Unfortunately, most nursing and medical curricula do not teach nurses how to assess patients for physical activity and prescribe appropriate activities. This puts nurses at a disadvantage when patients ask for guidance on how to be physically active and on which activities are best for them based on their values, preferences, and physical capabilities. Oncology nurses can use the Exercise is Medicine initiative to obtain physical activity tools that are not provided during our basic nursing education. The information on the Exercise is Medicine Website is organized according to who will be using the information, and there are specific sections for physicians, health and fitness professionals, the public, the media, and policy makers and advocates. Although oncology nurses will find helpful resources in each of these sections, the one for health and fitness professionals may be especially useful. The Website also links to supplemental materials and additional resources, including peer-reviewed articles from ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. Many of these articles focus on topics that are useful to oncology nurses in daily practice and can be used to supplement their teachings with patients and their families, including use of exercise to combat depression and chronic fatigue. Nurses who want to learn more about the Exercise is Medicine initiative can visit www.exerciseismedicine.org.

To complement its Web-based offerings, the ACSM has published a companion book through Lippincott Williams & Wilkins called ACSM’s Exercise is Medicine: A Clinician’s Guide to Exercise Prescription, which outlines physical activity and exercise programs for people with special health considerations, such as cancer. The book also provides guidance for incorporating exercise into one’s lifestyle, covering everything from a structured exercise approach to engaging in regular daily physical activity.

It is clear that regular physical activity and exercise are important for everyone, including people living with cancer. To effectively promote health and provide meaningful guidance to their patients, nurses must synthesize physical activity and exercise recommendations as well as their patients’ individual health needs and personal preferences. The Exercise is Medicine initiative can serve as a useful resource for oncology nurses, and is one they can reliably refer to for the best evidence in exercise programming. They can also refer patients and their families to the site, which can help reinforce their teaching and promote healthy lifestyle choices in these individuals.

Lisa Marie Bernardo, PhD, MPH, RN, HFS, is an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. She is an ACSM-certified Health Fitness Specialist and ACSM/ACS Cancer Exercise Trainer and an ACSM-licensed Wellness Coach.