Race for the Cure: Q&A with Andrea Leonard

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

After watching her mother struggle with breast cancer twice and suffering from thyroid cancer herself, personal trainer Andrea Leonard decided to help cancer survivors and recovery patients through exercise. The 47-year-old, who lives in Portland, Ore., created the Cancer Exercise Training Institute, a program that teaches health and fitness professionals how to work with patients both during and after treatment.

At this weekend's Columbus Race for the Cure, Leonard will be at the BOSU (Both Sides Up Balance Trainer) booth promoting her program, which debuts in June. This certification will teach people how to use the BOSU, a popular exercise tool in cancer recovery programs. We talked with Leonard about how she's been helping others. For more information, visit

-Heather Weekley, @heather_weekley

How did the Cancer Exercise Training Institute come about, and what is its mission?

I published a book called "Essential Exercises for Breast Cancer Survivors." It was released in 2000, and originally I started just teaching breast cancer classes. I was from D.C. and relocated to Oregon in 1999. I decided that a lot more people were struggling with the aftermath of cancer, so I created the institute. We are the only program that offers specific protocol for yoga, pilates, personal trainers and now BOSU.

What does the new BOSU program include?

There's a BOSU handbook for breast cancer survivors. There will be about 50 different exercises that can be done on the BOSU. There are a lot of balancing exercises that we have to do and it's important to find out what muscles need to be stretched and which need to be strengthened. We train people in depth to become cancer exercise specialists who can work with clients and patients in that respect.

What are some of the best exercises for cancer survivors and recovery patients?

There is some very fundamental information that people need to know. It's all about biomechanics. As a trainer, the first hour to hour and a half I spend with them is diagnostics. We want to find the source of the problem. They don't have to accept this anymore. There is an alternative, and there is a way to take people back to before treatments or before surgery, or even make them better. I am really excited for BOSU, because we are naturally doing core and balance, which are huge. People have risk of osteoporosis after the hormonal cancers. We add weight bearing exercises while on the BOSU.

Why is it important for those affected by cancer to stay fit?

It allows you to take control of your body at a time when your body has completely failed you. Self-esteem and self-confidence are quite crushed, and it helps you take that back. It produces endorphins that give you energy. It can help people sleep better, because when they sleep, they heal. And it stimulates healthy treatments, prevents bone density loss. There is a risk after chemo of diabetes, which can be prevented or minimized. And it helps with the damage to heart and lungs. After someone has lymph lodes removed, they are at risk for lymphedema. Exercise can help to prevent or minimize this.