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UTA health partners with foundation to launch exercise program for cancer patients

Thursday, March 10, 2016 • Media Contact: Lekan Oguntoyinbo

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The University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation has teamed up with Cancer Foundation for Life to bring an exercise program to the University campus that helps cancer patients return to full health.

Mark Haykowsky

Mark Haykowsky, professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and Moritz Chair of Geriatric Nursing and Research at UTA, will be directing the FitSTEPS program at the University.

The free, community-based nutrition and exercise program, known as FitSTEPS for Life, is designed to help cancer patients increase mobility and boost endurance while undergoing treatment. The program is structured, tailored to the individual and includes aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching techniques. It is designed to mitigate the debilitating effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

Studies show that cancer patients who exercise during and after treatment improve their cardiorespiratory fitness and quality of life, said Mark Haykowsky, a professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and Moritz Chair of Geriatric Nursing and Research at UTA. Haykowsky is directing the program at UTA.

Dr. Gary Kimmel, founder of FitSTEPS for Life and board chair emeritus of Tyler-based Cancer Foundation for Life, said cancer patients who exercise while being treated with chemotherapy typically experience less nausea as well as a significant reduction in fatigue.

“Pre-clinical studies suggest that if patients exercise during treatment chemotherapy may be more effective in targeting cancer cells,” he said. “Some of these drugs damage your heart. But if you are exercising the effects of the drugs on the heart are mitigated.”

There are currently 12 FitSTEPS for Life programs in Texas, including six in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. The newest FitSTEPS program is housed at UTA’s Maverick Activities Center and is the first in the Fort Worth-Arlington area.

The program officially kicked off on the UTA campus in late February. But the college’s Department of Kinesiology has had a relationship with FitSTEPS for several years, said David Keller, associate dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

During that period, several undergraduate kinesiology students have completed their required internships at various FitSTEPS sites, said Keller, who is also chair of kinesiology. He called this new partnership an important evolution in the relationship with the foundation.

“This is a good opportunity for the community, our students and faculty alike,” Keller said. “We are the first site in the Arlington area to offer this program. If you live in the Arlington area, Grand Prairie, Mansfield, etc., and are in need of this program we offer a much more convenient option.”

State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, is a former nurse and healthcare administrator who serves on the Texas House of Representatives Human Services Committee. She said UTA’s partnership with the foundation is the kind of collaboration that strengthens health care across the region.

“Having FitSTEPS for Life in this region of North Texas is a boon for our community and other nearby communities,” Klick said. “I have seen first-hand the devastating impact of cancer on several of my constituents. I have seen how so many of these cancer patients struggle unsuccessfully to regain their full health and strength after treatment. This is definitely a great resource for this area.”

Free parking at the Maverick Activities Center is provided to all participants. Haykowsky said the program is another great tool for building ties with the surrounding communities and making the university’s resources available to all people.

“We’re trying to increase ties to the community,” said Haykowsky. “We’re getting out in the community and bringing the community to UTA.”

Kimmel said UTA’s central location, close proximity to three major health systems with strong oncology centers and commitment to forging strong community relationships made it a natural fit for this partnership.

“UTA has an interest in serving the community,” he added. “This integrates them with the healthcare community. UTA has professors interested in doing research and this connects them with the patient population.  It also provides internship opportunities for students.”

Anne Bavier, dean of University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation, called the program an important part of the university’s long-term objectives in teaching, research and service. She noted that improving health and the human condition is one of the four guiding themes of UTA’s Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

“A community’s greatest asset is a healthy, thriving population,” she said. “While scientists have yet to find a cure for cancer, the strides made in recent decades have been very encouraging. Partnerships of this kind help ensure better survival rates for cancer patients in our community. They also help ensure a better quality of life. Helping tackle such real life problems is a critically important part of our reason for being as a health-focused college and as a university.”

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a Carnegie “highest research activity” institution of more than 50,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UTA as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times’ 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition.