Free fitness program for cancer survivors


Photo credit: The Herald News, Fall River, MA

There’s a free, 12-week exercise program for cancer survivors in  the United States, and there’s a chance you can tap into it at your YMCA. If you have or have recently had cancer, you qualify for the Livestrong/YMCA fitness program. It’s tailored for survivors in that you go your own pace, with instruction. You learn what exercises are safe now, but get as much of a nudge as you need to reclaim or maintain your strength. And you’re in a private space with others who’ve known this disease.

“Trained fitness instructors work with about seven participants at a time. They’ve learned to address lymphedema and other post cancer treatment issues. So if someone can’t lift heavy weights or can’t get on the treadmill because of neuropathy for instance, they can have a plan tailored for them incorporating a stationary bike, so they aren’t bearing a lot of weight,” says Haley Justice Gardiner, Livestrong’s manager of community program engagement.

“You can start slow if you need to—perhaps just a couple of minutes on the treadmill at first.”


The experience is set up for cancer survivors in ways beyond the exercise plan


There are private dressing areas, one-on-one space to talk to staff about personal issues. Nontoxic cleaning supplies. And after you go from your treadmill, to your elliptical bike, to your weights, you meet up with other participants in a private space to talk while you stretch and wind down.

“This relaxation period is a chance to come together privately with others who’ve known cancer, and to talk. So it becomes like a support group of people in a similar place trying to regain their strength,” says Haley.

Fitness staff train for a year to know how to work you; to know how to interview during a pre-assessment, and to learn how to listen and hear of needs beyond the physical.

“If an instructor learns someone is struggling with transportation issues or emotional concerns, they can connect with partners in the community to offer more support,” says Haley.


The free 12-week fitness program for cancer survivors meets twice a week for 70 minutes

It’s mainly for adults. Though some programs work with childhood cancer survivors.

Know that some Y’s offer more support after you’ve finished your 12 weeks of exercise.

“We encourage our partners to sustain the program by looking beyond and continuing to address needs. So some YMCA’s have yoga, aquatics or expressive dance for cancer survivors. Or they may offer Livestrong’s after school program, which teaches kindergartners through 12th graders about cancer. They learn how they might support survivors, and there is a focus on removing the fear and stigma,” says Haley.  

For a list of YMCA locations that offer the main program—the 12-weeks of customized fitness training:

If you do not see your YMCA listed, confirm whether they participate by calling: 1-855-220-7777


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7 Responses to “Free fitness program for cancer survivors”
  1. Tami Boehmer says:

    Thanks Rachel! This is great information!

  2. Victor Kasacavage says:

    How do we get our local Y to get involved with this program?


  3. Susan says:

    Great idea, but our local YMCA closed years ago. Too bad you couldn’t get other gyms like planet fitness or golds gym to get involved and do a program like this. As a survivor just getting the ok to start exercising, this would be a program that I could benefit so much from.

  4. Marie says:

    I am part of the pilot class for the West YMCA and Boise Aquatic Center in Boise Idaho. It has been an amazing experience. We get to know others that are dealing with other types of cancers and other limitations because of different treatments. We also get to focus on something other than cancer or cancer treatments as we learn about different Y programs and activities. Also learning how to modify classes and activities to meet my needs but keep me exercising is very important.

  5. Elaine says:

    I will share this information with my following. Thank-you for sharing.

  6. Michele says:

    I have been doing the Livestrong program since mid January at the YMCA in Red Bank, NJ. Jodi Kondracki and her Livestrong staff are truly amazing! I so needed this program due to post chemo neuropathy issues and muscle deterioration. I thought I had been active with walking during chemo and doing outside yard work, but it wasn’t enough. My muscles were screaming at me with any little thing I did. Now, I am building back my strength, balance and endurance. Excellent Program that I would highly recommend to anyone after having chemo.

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