As a certified fitness trainer with nearly 40 years in the industry, Michelle Gaulin knows how to motivate her clients to be the best possible versions of themselves.
In recent years, Gaulin — who has operated Ageless Fitness & Health in Edmonton with her husband, Jack Taylor, since 2004 — has done an increasing amount of work with clients whose cancer is in remission.
“Cancer is around all of us,” Gaulin says. “We’re surrounded by people who’ve had it, or have it now, and I think we’re running into more and more people who are suffering from the side effects of the treatments.”
Gaulin, who became certified as a cancer exercise specialist in the summer of 2017, focuses on a holistic approach to exercise based on functional movement, strength, balance and range of motion. Many cancer treatments, she says, can exacerbate posture issues or restrict a patient’s movements. But exercise is one way to counter those effects. “Many doctors now are saying, ‘Try to take some exercise if you can, if your energy will allow it,’” she says. “There is something that can be done if you’re a cancer survivor and you have some side effects from surgery, radiation or chemo.”
Clients who are cancer patients often battle a range of other challenges on their road to physical fitness, including fatigue and scar tissue related to surgery.
“Cancer patients want to feel like they fit in, and also like they are making progress,” Gaulin says, adding that the notion of progress needs to be redefined for these clients. “It isn’t necessarily a linear kind of graph chart where things are going up all the time,” she says. “They may even have some baby steps backwards.”
Gaulin works with her clients to set realistic goals in line with their specific needs and treatments. “If you are a current cancer patient, you can still exercise, but it has to be modified quite a great deal,” she says.
For example, a person whose treatment plan has involved surgery or an amputation may experience limited range of motion due to heavy scarring. This, Gaulin says, is especially true of patients with breast cancer, as well as those who have experienced any type of abdominal surgery as part of their treatment.
“The exercises we would do for someone like that would be to take you in the opposite direction that your body wants to go,” she says. “Instead of doing a crunch or a sit-up, we would work on some extension exercises, and those would have to be very, very gentle.”
Gaulin says the key to delivering successful fitness programs for patients is compassion and encouragement. “We have to be [each patient’s] biggest cheerleader when it comes to any accomplishment they make, no matter how big or how small.”
To learn more about Ageless fitness, visit agelessfitness.ca