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Mark Haykowsky works with a FitSTEPS participant

Faculty Rounds

Mark Haykowsky works with a FitSTEPS participant.

Making cancer patients stronger for the fight

A couple of times each week, several cancer patients make their way to a lab at the Maverick Activities Center on the UTA campus. There, graduate students and a professor work closely with them on range of exercise strategies designed to help patients get their strength and health back.

Known as FitSTEPS for Life, the program is a customized nutrition and exercise regimen that helps cancer patients increase endurance and mobility while overcoming the debilitating effects of chemotherapy treatment. FitSTEPS is tailored to the individual and includes aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching techniques.

The initiative is the first of its kind in the Fort Worth-Arlington area. Although the services are free, patients must be referred by their physicians. Gary Kimmel, a physician and emeritus board chairman of the Cancer Foundation in Tyler, Texas, founded FitSTEPS for Life, which has 15 centers statewide.

"Cancer patients tend to have very low fitness to the extent that performing activities of daily living can become quite difficult," says Mark Haykowsky, a professor of nursing and a renowned cardio-oncology researcher who oversees the FitSTEPS program on the campus. However, studies show that exercising during chemotherapy may be an effective method for targeting cancer cells and may also mitigate the damage that some of these drugs could potentially have on patients' hearts.

"Research has shown massive benefits from exercise for cancer groups, and not just for the body," says Rhys Beaudry, a kinesiology doctoral student and FitSTEPS trainer. "There are benefits in sleep, dietary habits, mood, and how you deal with chemotherapy."

Although FitSTEPS began operating on the UTA campus in February 2016, the University has had a relationship with the program for years. Undergraduate kinesiology students have completed their required internships at various FitSTEPS sites in the area.

"This is a good opportunity for the community, our students, and our faculty," says David Keller, associate dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and kinesiology chair. "If you live in the Arlington, Grand Prairie, or Mansfield areas and are in need of this program, we offer a much more convenient option."