CrossFit program helps cancer survivors rebuild muscle

Lori Ramirez and Jill LeMasters work out at JoJo CrossFit in Franklin.
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If you want to reduce your cancer risk or speed up your recovery from a chronic disease, doctors encourage you to get moving. A Franklin gym has a program that's working for two patients.

The key is to sample various workouts. Maybe it's yoga, Pilates or Zumba that's a good fit for you. That's what "Fitness Friday" at JoJo CrossFit is all about.

What if you're a cancer survivor? The basics of CrossFit help you build muscle mass and might be just what the doctor ordered.

After making the commitment to workout at least three times a week, Jill LeMasters says her progress is encouraging.

"I have almost mastered my pull-up without any assistance," said LeMasters.

She works out with Lori Ramirez at JoJo CrossFit. At first, they were strangers, but then learned they were both survivors.

"We both, first of all, have breast cancer. We had the exact diagnosis, ER positive, PR positive and HR2 negative. We both went through the lymph nodes out of our arms, we both went through the radial mastectomy, we both went through the reconstruction and then we both have the same issues as far as building muscles," Ramirez said.

Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass as we age, is natural. But for women after cancer treatment, the challenges are amplified.

"They are experiencing, sometimes, the side effects of natural aging, but also maybe some of the side effects of our cancer treatment - chemotherapy, estrogen blocking, medicines - and so we need to come up with good solutions for these women and we know that one of the staples is resistance training," said Dr. Danielle Doyle.

Trainer Mike Hart says three fitness basics are a good place to start.

"Push-ups, squats and dead lifts would probably be three of the most beneficial movements, especially for women," Hart said.

"People lose muscle mass, mainly in their proximal muscles, which are their arms and their legs and more so in the legs, more commonly that the arms," Doyle said.

Since depression often follows a cancer diagnosis, Jill was intentionally positive.

"I had a bilateral mastectomy reconstruction and it's mutilating, devastating to your whole psyche, so that is hard to recover from, but I have found that exercise has really helped keep me positive and...just mentally and physically," LeMasters said. "I feel strong, I feel healthy, I don't feel like a cancer patient."

Doyle says the loss of muscle mass accelerates as we age. After 50, it's a one-percent decline per year. Beyond 60, it is a three-percent loss in muscle strength per year. Add to that figure that breast cancer survivors are living longer, Doyle says it's critical that building muscle mass be part of the long-term recovery.