Cancer Survivors: Exercise Got You In a Pickle?

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Introducing a whacky new workout. Pickleball!

The game of PICKLEBALL has been touted by many to be the fastest growing sport in North America. The U.S. Pickleball Association calls the game a “highly contagious, progressive and incurable disease”. The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) recently reported that Pickleball currently has 2.46 million players nationwide.

As a breast cancer survivor and Pickleball player I have to agree with the “contagious” description. Combining fast action, hand/eye coordination, comedy and comradery, this is truly an addictive sport where winning takes a back seat to just participating.

The popularity of the game is due to several factors. It’s a game that favors seniors in its design with a reduced demand for running. The “baby boomer” generation is entering retirement and those of us who have been active all our lives (and those who are new to sports but looking for something that doesn’t require good knees, great coordination or body armor) may find this exciting paddle game to be just the ticket to inspire a good workout along with the mental stimulation that anyone over 55 can appreciate.

Easier than a traditional tennis game, Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court where the net has been lowered to 34 inches at the center, and unlike tennis, a small solid paddle is used instead of a stringed racquet. The game can be played with single players, but almost always there are two team players to a side, thus limiting the amount of movement required. Gone are the days of endless dashing and slicing. But make no mistake, despite its silly name this is no wimpy sport. You’ll get whatever level of workout you need, and all while cultivating an indelible smile on your face.

Scoring is a bit nutty and is often the source of much laughter (and a touch of confusion) for those of us proud to call ourselves seniors. More often than not you may find yourself and your partners attempting to remember who served the last ball, so be sure to include your sense of humor on your equipment list.

Because Pickleball uses the smaller court and underhand serves (which are easier on the shoulder), the game is a good fit for seniors and a good workout, providing healthy fun that’s right in line with an active adult lifestyle.

If you’re a cancer survivor like I am, you likely know the importance of light exercise as part of our health and healing. And be forewarned: You will laugh a lot. The power of laughter to elevate our mood, lower our blood pressure, decrease stress and support proper breathing is well documented by medical science.

Exercise, like laughter, releases chemicals in our bodies that are both beneficial and stress reducing. When you exercise your body creates endorphins. Endorphins act as an analgesic, which means they diminish the perception of pain. They also act as sedatives. They are manufactured in your brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of your body and are released in response to brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neuron receptors endorphins bind to are the same ones that bind some pain medicines.

Regular exercise has been proven to:

• Reduce stress • Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression • Boost self-esteem • Improve sleep

Pickleball players are self-rated on a scale of 2 to 5 with average players at level 3, so it’s easy to find suitable partners to give you a friendly game while improving your strength and stamina.

Cancer survivors cherish the moments when our disease is put on the back burner for a while and a game of Pickleball has a way of focusing our attention on the present moment, where getting that funny looking ball back across the net is the only concern we need to have.

It’s a game where health challenges are met with kindness and cooperation while knee and elbow braces are considered part of the uniform. I have severe arthritis in both of my knees, the result of 35 years of competitive running, but once on the court and properly warmed up, my pain seems to dissolve. This is due to the fact those endorphins created by my own body are doing their job. But there’s another, even more important reason that I and millions like me keep returning to the courts. Out there amongst the sounds of paddles popping on plastic balls, and the music of laughter echoing across the nets, you’re likely to meet some of the friendliest people on Earth.


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