Search other articles
Ahead of her time
Ahead of her time
Joyce Hanna’s story
Joyce Hanna’s message is simple: Exercise is a good thing, regardless of physical limitations. In fact, Joyce has been fighting for this belief since the beginning of “the exercise movement,” and people are finally starting to pay attention. Joyce is currently Associate Director for Stanford University’s Health Improvement Program. She runs programs throughout the Bay Area to help cancer patients become physically active and improve their quality of life. Cancer patients are now enjoying “Living Strong, Living Well” in a total of 11 YMCAs from San Mateo to San Jose. Joyce even has requests for this program outside of California, where she and her colleague, Julie Anderson, have developed a training program to get as many people involved as possible.
While this program is clearly working wonders for cancer patients and survivors, social acceptance and adherence to exercise programs for special populations certainly did not come about easily. From the beginning of her quest, Joyce had to truly believe from her heart that this was the right thing to do. After years of participating in and promoting physical activity, along with earning two master’s degrees, Joyce has finally managed to win the audience of doctors nationwide.
Since a young age, Joyce has had the urge to be physically active. She found herself intrigued by exercise after reading Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book, Aerobics, published in 1968. This book launched the fitness revolution and coined the term “aerobics.” She started to run around the block, causing quite a reaction. At that time, she says, “people thought that if women exercised, their ovaries or uterus would fall out.” She had to dust off negative comments such as, “Don’t you know that women aren’t supposed to sweat?” and “What are you doing?” Despite the negative attention she was getting regarding her physical activity, Joyce completed a ten-kilometer race, Bay to Breakers, in 1975, only five years after her first run around the block. Later on, she would find herself completing several marathons. Joyce’s fastest marathon was three hours and twenty-six minutes, which qualified her for the Boston marathon and ranked her nationally for her age group in 1983 (she was in her mid-40s).
People started to ask Joyce questions about fitness, and she started to think that this was her calling. Even though she had already attained her master’s degree in education from Stanford University in 1958, she decided to go for her master’s degree in exercise physiology, which she completed from California State University, Hayward, in 1988. This was a huge challenge for her since women struggled to get real jobs in the health and fitness industry at that time.
With Joyce’s knowledge of what exercise could do for already-healthy people, she thought, “I wonder what exercise could do for people with diseases?” Soon after, she attended a conference (at the Cooper Center some ten years ago) that would help steer her in the right direction. Some of the scientists presented specific research which demonstrated that exercise could help cancer patients recover more quickly and improve their lives. While most people thought that exercise would promote fatigue on an immune system that was already compromised, Joyce disagreed with this notion, and maintained her stance in believing that exercise was a good thing. After visiting Santa Barbara to view a program that was already running for cancer patients, she decided to start one of her own. The current program, “Living Strong, Living Well,” is the same one that she originally created in 2002, and it is now accepted in the medical field as a method to help cancer patients improve their quality of life, enhance vitality, fight fatigue and stress, and improve social interaction. After a survey done at the six-month and one-year mark, she finds that most patients are way ahead of where they started.
The “Living Strong, Living Well program,” Joyce says, “is about health, not about illness.” She discourages people from talking about their treatment or negative issues. It is all about positive, encouraging words to help people get through their struggles. She has people come up with goals such as “getting back to work,” “climbing a mountain,” or “playing with their grandchildren.” These are simple, attainable goals that cause people to start looking at the glass half full and get on track to physical and mental wellness. She wants to empower people to get well and take charge of their lives.
Joyce still exercises every day, although marathons are not on her list of things “to do” any time soon. She believes that morning exercise gives her energy and a sense of well-being. Joyce will always maintain that exercise has a ripple effect. When people see that they can overcome something huge, such as the challenge of exercise, she believes that they can overcome so many things that they never considered possible. Joyce feels that it can be intimidating to walk into a gym in the first place, so she takes special care with each phone call that she receives. She feels that each person has already overcome an obstacle by simply picking up the phone to start a program, so she gives her heart and understanding to each one in return. Over the years, she has not gotten tired of inspiring and touching people’s lives.