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The Benefits of Biking for Cancer Patients

This is a guest blog by Virgil Anderson, a cancer patient who campaigns to encourage other cancer patients to take up cycling.

Cancer can be a very isolating ailment. Patients who don't feel well might retreat to their bedrooms for days on end. Exercise and socializing are the last things on their minds. However, some activity is critical during treatment and recovery. Patients who recognize this fact can prioritize movement as part of their daily routine. Consider the act of cycling as a conduit toward a healthy body. Many cancer patients thrive with this activity in their lives.

Stress Relief

It's no secret that excessive stress is harmful to the human body. Constant worrying can push a patient's immune system to the brink where their ailment becomes worse. According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, cycling (and so also mountain biking) can reduce stress by encouraging endorphin releases. As the mountain biking effort continues, mesothelioma and lung-cancer sufferers will feel a rush of good feelings. Endorphins offer a feeling of peace to the person. They will fade away, which makes regular cycling a necessity for anyone looking to relieve stress.

Opening Up Airways

The biggest complaint among mesothelioma and lung-cancer patients is difficulty breathing. Cycling offers a reprieve from this situation. As the cyclists gain speed, the heart beats faster than its resting rate. Increased heart rates lead to faster blood flows through the arteries and veins. The blood transfers oxygen to the tissues at a faster pace as a result. The lungs have improved function as the mountain biking continues. This exercise conditions the heart and lungs to work better than before.

Impacts Remain Minimal

Many cancer patients are concerned about aggravating their health condition with a biking adventure. They believe it'll be too rough on their bodies. Patients shouldn't head out to an extreme off-road adventure in the Alps or Ardennes. In fact, patients can just stick to urban cycle paths or easy woodland paths and then they will be entirely comfortable. The impacts to the joints and muscles are completely minimized when cancer patients take an easy ride out in the afternoon. They will still receive a quality workout with no hint of injury at the tissue level. Of course, if you're not sure about your own situation, you should check with your own doctor.

Weight-Control Perks

Some patients deal with cancer treatment and remission for many years afterwards. Gaining weight is a real concern for any lung-cancer patient. The extra kilos create strain against the lungs, which makes it harder to breathe.

Hopping on a bike for regular rides fights off weight gain. Patients can eat normal meals with some indulgences while still maintaining a lean figure. Any extra weight creates other issues with the body, including high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. Controlling it with a pastime is the best way to feel healthy throughout recovery.

Muscle-Building Opportunity

According to Bicycling Magazine, the muscles surrounding the lungs get a workout with a regular cycling regimen. It's not necessary for bikers to ride intensely either. A moderate pace of 30 or 45 minutes several times a week improves the average cancer patient's muscles at a comfortable pace. Breathing deeply is possible after conditioning the heart, lungs and blood vessels. Other muscles gain strength too, which further improves a person's prognosis.

Increasing Bone Density

Cancer patients also have an issue with bone density as they deal with their ailment. The body is robbed of nutrients during chemotherapy and radiation. Patients need strong bones in general, however. By riding a bike, the moving muscles create strain on the bones. The skeleton reacts with increased cell production across every surface. As a result, patients see a stronger body with the help of their biking efforts.

Getting to Know Your Neighbors

There's no doubt that the social aspect impacts a patient's success in treatment and recovery. Cycling can be a social activity and there are cycling and mountain biking clubs in every city in the Netherlands. Take a casual ride to the woods or around the neighbourhood. Discuss interesting topics during the workout. If patients weren't fans of bike riding before, the social aspect might change their minds. Feeling accepted and sharing a laugh can be medicine too. Patients who don't have a strong support system will have a much different experience as they go through recovery.

A person's health depends on a number of factors, from the food they eat to activity levels every day. It doesn't matter if patients cycle outdoors or at the gym, these movements give rise to a healthier body than before. Recovery and remission are possible with cycling as a main component of anyone's lifestyle.

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RETO winter tour

Yesterday, the RETO club in Arnhem organised their winter tour. As we drove towards Arnhem, the woods were clad in a damp coating of dense fog and I feared the worst, but fortunately, before long, the mist cleared away and although the temperatures were only just above freezing, there was enough uphill to keep us warm. The biggest challenge came from the cold, but not from the air but the ground temperature. Some bits were just above freezing and some just below. So that meant that there would be a patch of slightly soft mud and then all of a sudden the ruts and ridges became glass hard and unyielding. So it was necessary to keep your wits about you and do some careful steering at those points. The other problem that I had was that I was with a couple of members of our club who were younger and faster than myself and in the first half, I made the mistake of trying to keep up with them. Not only did that slow them down but it meant I was cycling at 95% of my maximum heart rate for a lot of the time. That's obviously not a good idea if you want to keep going for getting on three hours.  However, after the break, we sensibly agreed to go at our own pace and the others kindly waited for me from time to time and that was a lot more comfortable. It was a great route, most of the time along paths I didn't know, but occassionally doing a stretch I recognised. Some really nice singletrack across heathland, which must be magnificent when the heather is flowering and lots of nice woodland. Very well organised as well, clear signposting and someone even standing in the cold to warn us to slow down at an icy patch at the bottom of a hill which was potentially hazardous. A great tour!

 

RETO tour profile

RETO tour route

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Storm!

Last Thursday we had the biggest storm for years. 66 lorries were blown over on the road and the entire national rail network was shut down  I think for the first time ever. At the weekend, the official trails on the Heuvelrug were shut, which was fair enough as a lot of people go quite fast there and you could imagine dangerous situations developing with trees down all over the place, but what about the woods on the other side of Wageningen where you don't have to stick to designated paths? A small group of us ventured out on Saturday morning to see how it was.

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Fallen tree

It was indeed quite dramatic with large numbers of very big trees all over the place.  There were a lot of Scots Pines, I suppose because their needles caught the wind, and a lot of very tall trees, probably as they caught the wind sticking out above the canopy. It was notable that many were not uprooted, but snapped off part way up. Fortunately, there is quite a network of paths, so it was no problem to wend our way round some, and crawl under or over others. There were also thousands of smaller branches over the paths, and many of them smooth, wet and slippery, so we had a lot of practice hopping over them whilst avoiding touching them at an angle with our front wheels, which would then be a recipe for a crash. In places, it was a bit like being in snow; slow progress and high energy expenditure. All in all, it was quite spectacular, especially where the trees found something other than trees to fall on.

Storm damage

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New Year's Resolution

According to my newspaper last weekend, it is about now that most people stop keeping the resolutions they made for the New Year. I don't have that problem because I haven't started doing anything about my New Year's resolution yet! At New Year, I signed up for the Vulkan Bike Eifel Marathon, so my challenge for the year is going be to train for that. And it will be a challenge as well; it is 2 000 height meters in 85 km. The 85 km will not be such an issue, but the height is getting on twice as much as I have ever done in a day before. The profile is quite scary as well:

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Profile VulkaanBike Eifel Marathon

 However, scary as it might be, various people who know more about these things than I do, have told me that it ought to be possible. So, on the random assumption that six months training will be enough, I've drawn up a scheme where every couple of weeks I go a bit further, starting from the 40 km that I normally do with the club on a Saturday and building up to 80-90 km. That's fine for the kilometres, but seeing there isn't a great deal of height meters around here anyway, I'm just going to have to hope that selecting the hillier bits around here will be sufficient, even if I'm not often going to go above the thousand meters. 

The marathon is organised by VulkanBike (named because it is in the volcanic region of the Eifel) and has the advantage of taking place in spectacular scenery, like the view below:

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Daun
Last year about 1600 cyclists took part (over various distances) despite foul weather. Hopefully, the conditions will be a bit better in 2018. Another thing that will be new for me (aside from all those height meters) is that apparently it is supposed to be some sort of a race.  I am heartened by the fact that if I look at the times for last year's even quite a number of people (especially in my age class - almost the oldest!) crawled over the line just before the limit for what counts, so apparently, that's also possible.
Anyway, six weeks to go before I start implementing my New Year's resolution and begin training. Finding some height meters for the kick-off will not be a problem as coincidentally (really!) I have a work trip to Manchester at that time so I am taking a day off mountain biking in the Peak District. I can't wait!

 

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Dog-weather

When the English say that it is raining cats and dogs, the Dutch say it is dog weather (hondenweer). I don't know why, I don't think either cats or dogs like to be out in miserable weather. Unlike mountain bikers (or at last some). But today the sun was shining, it was warmer and there was much less iced water on the ground than a week ago. Nevertheless, that meant it was dog weather. There were more dogs out in the woods today than I've seen for ages. Sometimes dogs in the woods are a bit aggressive, I've been bitten twice in recent years. But today, I think they were so happy to be out after being cooped up inside after the bad weather recently, that there was not even a growl or raised hackle as I cycled past them. Everyone was happy in the woods today. 

 

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Cold!

It snowed last night, and this morning it was round about freezing. Most of the club were sensible enough not to go out in the cold, so it was just me and one other mountain biker this morning. I put a couple of extra layers on and thought that would be enough, but that turned out not be quite right. Not only was it snowy, the ground was also very swampy, I guess because it was either frozen or saturated lower down. To make matters worse, the snow acted as camouflage for a number of quite deep puddles. So that meant that, on several occasions, my foot went down into a lovely mixture of water/snow/ice, deeper than the top of my boot, allowing icy water to seep in around my feet. Add to that a spray of damp snow from my back wheel onto my backside and I was very forcibly reminded of just how much colder damp snow at zero feels than much lower temperatures. My wife made it clear to me before I set off that she thought I was insane going out in such weather, so was she right? Well, maybe a little, but it was incredibly beautiful despite the cold, with the fresh snow lying everywhere, the snow gave some extra technical challenges and yes, despite the cold it was well worth it.

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