Take a Hike: Hiking Tips for Cancer Patients


Physical & Sexual Health
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Dr. Catherine (Kathy) Jankowski, an exercise physiologist at the University of Colorado, has offered great tips for colorectal cancer patients wanting to safely hike and go on nature walks. Her research focus is on the maintenance and promotion of physical function during aging, cancer survivorship and chronic disease. COVID-19 safety tips for outdoor enthusiasts from the National Recreation and Park Association:
  • Wash your hands before you go and carry hand sanitizer.
  • Do not use trails if you have symptoms of COVID-19, which can include fever, cough and breathing trouble.
  • Maintain a six-foot distance from other people while on the trail, following social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Bring your own water and keep in mind that any public restrooms may be closed.
  • It's even more important than usual to pack out your own trash to protect any park employees.
  • As you get ready to venture outside, be mindful that some popular places are being over-crowded and potentially straining local health care systems. Stay as local as possible and reach out to land managers to see what restrictions might be in place.

Q: What are some benefits cancer patients and survivors get from hiking?

nancy-mountain-strong-arm-selfieA: Hiking is a great way to build heart health, relax the mind, observe nature and build self-confidence for physical activity. Also, just 10 minutes of sunshine a day is enough to maintain vitamin D levels. The American Cancer Society recommends cancer survivors take part in regular physical activity, at least 150 minutes per week. Regular exercise (that includes hiking!) can reduce the recurrence rates of colorectal cancer by up to 50%.

Q: I’m new to physical activity, how should I start conditioning for a hike?

mountain-strong-arm-selfieA. Start with walking around the neighborhood or park for a comfortable length of time or distance – you might start at 10 minutes, depending on how you feel. Add 10% more per week. As you get more comfortable in the neighborhood, seek out new places with more varied terrain, such as a park with some hills. This is a good way to break in a new pair of hiking boots!

Q: What are some recommendations if I’m considering a long, challenging hike?

yoga-nyc-colon-cancer-eventA. Train your muscles and build strength. The muscles of the upper and lower legs are most involved with hiking. Strengthening the abdomen and back helps with carrying a pack (even a small pack) and improves overall endurance. Strength training stimulates adaptations of muscles beyond the usual needs in daily life. This is important in hiking because of the irregular surfaces, large steps up and down and challenges to balance. The American Cancer Society recommends cancer survivors include strength training exercises at least 2 days per week.

Q: What should I wear when going out for a hike in the summer? Any special considerations for cancer patients on EGFR inhibitors? 

FightCRC_2016_SkinToxicity_MiniMag_THUMBNAILProtection from the elements is the primary driver of your hiking wardrobe – whether or not you’re in treatment for cancer. Choose breathable clothing that dries quickly; dress in layers so you will be comfortable as the temperature changes throughout the day. Stable footwear that is correctly sized for hiking (plenty of room for toes when going downhill); cushioned socks. A hat and sunglasses for sun protection. If you’re on an EGFR inhibitor, read through Fight CRC’s Skin Toxicity Resources for more tips on how to be skin safe. If you have CIPN (chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy), hiking on rough terrain may not be the best way to engage in physical activity. Talk to your doctor before hiking.

Q: What types of things should I bring along for a day hike?

mountain-double-strong-arm-selfie-flexingA: In addition to extra clothing (see above), bring these items:
  • Water: Staying hydrated is extremely important to keep the body functioning. Mild dehydration can cause light headedness, constipation, nausea, headache and other negative effects.
  • Usual medications so you can take them on schedule.
  • Emergency medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen (check with your health care provider).
  • Insect repellent.
  • Sunscreen!
  • Food – try different types of calorie-dense snacks on shorter hikes. Snack often.
Pace yourself and enjoy the trek!

Q: Should I take any breaks? How will I know it’s time to take a break?

A: Try setting a timer on your watch for 20-30 minutes and see how that feels. If you are new to physical activity, you might need to walk less than that to get started. Take breaks before you are desperate for one. Sit down, drink water and eat a small snack. Resume when you feel more rested – and remember to listen to your body and turn around before you get tired. Regular physical activity can reduce fatigue by 40-50% for cancer patients.

Q: What if I’m unable to summit?

mountain-strong-arm-selfieSuccessful hikers know when to turn around – hiking is about the journey! The summit does not have to be the turn-around point of your hike. Ahead of time, select a few intermediate goals to reach along the trail, for example, a stunning overlook, a waterfall, a mile marker or a tree line. Assess your progress and how you feel at each point and be honest with yourself and your hiking buddy. Do not hesitate to turn back when the weather turns unpleasant.

Q: I’m planning to join the Fight CRC Hike. Any special considerations for hiking at elevation?

Yes. At elevation, your lungs work harder to get oxygen from the air. Expect heavier breathing and a higher heart rate. It’s important to slow your pace to where you are comfortable – hiking is not a race. Because the air is dry, drink small amounts often. Consider a beverage with electrolytes. You may not feel sweaty, but you are sweating. Replenish fluids often the day of and day after the hike. **If you’re a patient, talk to your doctor before you begin training for a challenging hike like the Fight CRC Hike.**

Q. Tell me more about the Fight CRC Hikes!

The Fight CRC "Climb for a Cure" hike began in 2016 with a caregiver, Chad Schrack. He had the idea to get the CRC community together for a hike as a way to raise awareness and funds for Fight CRC. It's since grown into an opportunity for advocates from coast-t0-coast. The hike encourages and inspires survivors and those touched by CRC to connect and engage in physical activity. Learn more today!