Advice for MPN Patients: Exercising Safely

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Exercise is beneficial and important for MPN patients, but how can it be done safely? What is the appropriate amount of physical activity for patients? Dr. Ruben Mesa, from the UT Health San Antonio Cancer Center, addresses concerns about exercising with high or low platelet counts, an enlarged spleen and the risk of clotting; and he shares healthy ways to stay active based on the individual needs of MPN patients. MPN patient advocate Julia Olff also describes the affect physical activity has on her condition, and how she has learned to pace herself with symptoms like fatigue. Watch now for tips on building a fitness routine that is compatible with your lifestyle.

Produced by Patient Power. We thank Incyte for their support.

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Transcript

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

I want to ask you a couple of things about exercise. So some people with high blood counts worry that they are certainly at risk of stroke. Should that, during that time, limit the amount of exercise they do for fear that the stuff pumping ever faster through their body is gonna end up with a big blood clot somewhere?

Dr. Mesa:               

Sure. No, that’s a very good question. One, overall, exercise for MPN patients is a very good thing. But clearly, it should be done with kind of the awareness of their physicians. And that in periods of time where the disease is not stable—the counts are too high and uncontrolled, there’s just been an event such as a blood clot or bleeding, clearly there might be times where exercise is not appropriate until things are more balanced and in control. But I’d say once things are balanced and in control, and as long as your healthcare team is aware, appropriate exercise is helpful and important. I think, like any approach to healthy exercise, it’s about gradually working yourself into a specific exercise program. With an MPN, it’s probably not good to do what happens on January 2 every year, where everyone has a New Year’s resolution.

And they go from, okay, I’m not exercising at all, to I’m gonna go to Lifetime, and I’m gonna exercise an hour-and-a-half on January 2, and absolutely dehydrate myself and exhaust myself, so by January 4, I’ve quit because I pulled a muscle and I feel terrible. So it’s clearly about kind of working yourself up to an appropriate level of exercise, in combination with what your doctor feels is appropriate and healthy for you, both in terms of your overall health, but also in terms of where you stand with your MPN. 

Andrew Schorr:

Mm-hmm. So, Julie, you’re nodding your head. How have you carried on with exercise? Walking the dog, but what other kinds of things? 

Julia Olff:             

Well, I wanted to add, as I’m listening to Dr. Mesa, that pacing is so important. Because I find it catches up with me. I could sleep, on average night, nine, ten hours, and I have to push myself out of bed in the morning.

So, yesterday, I had an evening meeting. I took a long walk. And in the moment, I’m okay, but by the evening, I start to feel achy. I need to put my feet up. The bone pain in my hips starts to kick in. So, there’s that balance of trying to get out as much as possible. So, for me, it’s taking advantage of the sun outside my window. And I’m already thinking, as soon as we’re done with this call, I’m gonna take another short walk. But it’s also trying to balance it, because too much activity when you have constant fatigue just catches up with you. And I find I end up having those acute bouts of illness when I’ve done too much for a sustained—like for a couple of months.

Dr. Mesa:               

If I might just add one additional thing. That pacing thing, I think, is so important.

As I told you, I’ve had many patients over the years who are very Type A. Some of them will be on this webinar as we speak.

Julia Olff:             

Yup.

Dr. Mesa:               

And they’re very hard on themselves because they remember, well, before my MPN, I was able to exercise this amount, and beat themselves up because they just don’t have the same stamina that they did before. And it’s okay. It’s okay to realize that the new normal does not necessarily mean that you have 100 percent of the capacity that you had before in terms of your exercise capability, and that even though it’s modified, or less, or adjusted accordingly, it’s still great that you’re doing it.  

Andrew Schorr:                  

So what about the kind of exercise you do if your platelets are lower? What’s your thought about that? 

Dr. Mesa:               

Well, I would say that, barring extremely low platelets, i.e., under 15,000, most routine forms of exercise that are cardiovascular, that are elliptical machines, that are weight-lifting, others sorts of things—all of those sorts of things are fine. I think the sports that one would probably avoid with either of those situations is truly kind of contact team sports—rugby, football, etc., where there’s very significant contact. Down here in Texas, I certainly have seen people riding the mechanical bull. I’m not sure that’s a good idea for anybody, but those sorts of extreme things. There is a bit of a misperception regarding the spleen and it being fragile with MPNs.

It sometimes makes people a little too fearful of doing exercise. The spleen enlarged with acute illnesses from a virus, most commonly mononucleosis or mono, is an area where the spleen grows very quickly. It’s very fragile. And constantly, you hear about people having their spleens rupture with playing volleyball, or football, or what have you. And in MPNs, that really is much less of a case. It’s not nearly as fragile. And it really—it’s not a concern for rupture with all the sorts of normal routine things one would do as an individual with exercise. 

Andrew Schorr:                  

So, contact sports—so, should I worry about biking if my platelets have been lower? That I’m gonna have some accident and I’m gonna bleed to death on the road or something? 

Dr. Mesa:               

Well, I would say, with 40,000 platelets, I probably would not do kind of the off-road trail cycling with high likelihood of running into rocks or things like that in Arizona, where it can be a bit treacherous. But if you’re really thinking about more gentle cycling, road cycling, particularly if you—and appropriately—are wearing a helmet, it’s probably fine still at that range. At 40,000 platelets, most individuals, even with fairly significant trauma, will still have the same reasonable clotting as other individuals. One probably could have emergency surgery at that level, barring really extreme trauma.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. And the reverse is, if you had really high platelets, and you’re worried about stroke and other things like that, you’re still not worried that somebody’s gonna run around the block, and that’s gonna put them over the edge? 

Dr. Mesa:               

I think that’s highly unlikely, without question. Again, whether they’re high and they need treatment or don’t need treatment, clearly it’s a discussion between the patient and their physician. But in general, appropriate exercise with adequate hydration, or clearly exercise that people have really evolved into, as opposed to a dramatic change in activity level, is usually quite safe.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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Page last updated on March 8, 2018