Simon Gooch, Big C’s Health and Education Officer, has been tasked with delivering the new Online Physical Activity and Coaching Programme for the Norfolk charity. Here he explains how exercise can play an important role before, during and after cancer treatment…
Do you have a background in health and fitness?
Since a young age I have been very interested in fitness, doing lots of sports and training martial arts. This led me to university where I ended up studying Sport and Exercise Science. I then completed a Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology.
Initially I was more interested in sports performance. But in time I found myself drawn towards how exercise and nutrition can help to prevent, rehabilitate or alleviate different health conditions. This can make a meaningful difference to how people live.
I have worked in the community, supporting mental health projects, and have launched a diabetes exercise clinic and other local initiatives to keep people active. I also currently coach Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes in Norwich.
When our new Director of Charitable Operations, Dr Melanie Pascale, discussed launching a physical activity programme for Big C’s service users, I was very excited to be involved.
What does being Health and Education Officer for Big C involve, exactly?
Big C’s education objectives include increasing the public’s awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer, encouraging participation in screening programmes and supporting local residents to improve lifestyle factors which are known to increase the risk of cancer. These include maintaining a healthy body weight, keeping active, reducing alcohol intake and stopping smoking.
As the Health Education Officer, I am involved in the design and delivery of some of these activities, always trying to be creative and memorable with our messages. Some days I will be doing workshops at local businesses and schools and other days I’ll be working with the communications team to effectively get these messages out to the public. More recently I have been designing and coordinating our ‘Get Moving with Big C’ programme to help those affected by cancer to increase their physical activity.
Our education team is also working hard on improving the skills and knowledge of local health care professionals, specifically in palliative care.
How can exercise help with cancer rehabilitation? Can it aid recovery?
Recently, I completed a Cancer and Exercise Rehabilitation Specialist Level 4 course which was a great experience. Physical activity can play an important role before, during and after cancer treatment, with strong evidence of it being safe and providing improved recovery and helping with patient wellbeing. Not only can it help physically, it is a great way of improving mental health during a time which is challenging.
What’s the thinking behind the new programme? Is it a direct result of lockdown and the impact it has had on our wellbeing?
Everybody is different and with more than 200 different types of cancer, we wanted to ensure that there is a 1:1 element to our programme, before anybody takes part in the group exercise classes. This is usually done via video chat with myself. It provides an opportunity to discuss how the person is feeling currently, any side effects to treatment which may need to be considered, and any goals the person may have. We want to ensure that it is safe and effective for everybody to take part.
We have taken positives away from the lockdown. Previously, we had not considered an online element to the ‘Get Moving with Big C’ programme. However, we hope this will access people in more rural areas who may not have attended one of the Big C Centres to take part in a class. Also, if someone is experiencing fatigue as a result of their cancer, being able to take part in their own home is great. Especially those who have been ‘shielding’.
What sort of exercise will you offer? Are yoga and Pilates both considered to be particularly beneficial activities for cancer patients?
We currently have three classes in our programme. All offer different ways to get active, depending on a person’s needs. All our classes have a second person in the background, observing, just in case anyone needs additional support, help with technical issues or in the very unlikely event there is an emergency.
I coach a ‘Gentle Exercise and Stretch’ session, which can be done either seated or standing. This is a great class for people who may have reduced mobility.
We have carefully selected experienced instructors: Carolyn Weston from Norfolk Pilates Therapy to coach our Pilates’ session and Nicki Stroud who is coaching our Mindfulness Yoga session. This has a strong focus on the restorative benefits of yoga, including meditation and breathing. We are very fortunate to have these two great coaches on board as they bring a huge amount of experience and passion to the programme.
All these types of exercise are great for cancer patients as they are ‘light to moderate’ intensity, supporting patients to increase their strength, flexibility, and balance. These types of exercise are considered a great stepping stone to help people return to being active again or getting active for the first time.
So it’s going to start as a 12-week course and possibly lead to social opportunities in the future?
We hope to encourage people to stay active after their 12 weeks, as this is an important part of the 1:1 support sessions. Once things ease with the lockdown, we hope to launch a regular nature walking group and Tai Chi sessions. We also hope to provide information and support with regards to nutrition soon.
Finally, have we got the likes of Joe Wicks to thank for the rise of online physical activity sessions?
One of the positives of lockdown is that people are becoming more creative and trying new things.
We hope we can reach more people by providing online classes as well as in our Support Centres when it is safe to do so. I think we can thank Joe Wicks for the part he has played. We would like to thank The NNUH Charities for supporting the programme.
To find about more about Get Moving with Big C, please visit https://support.big-c.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Get-Moving-with-Big-C_Info_Sheet.pdf. Email email@example.com or call 0800 092 7640.