There is a physical (and mental) decline in our bodies as we age—and studies have shown that biologic aging begins in our 20’s! Add cancer and the effects of its treatments to this decline and we can end up with significant weaknesses.
It can be extremely challenging to do any exercise or fitness program during treatment and even after treatment is completed. I remember some days, just getting out of bed was a major accomplishment. There is pain and limited abilities that may be secondary to surgeries and radiation. Cancer and its treatments may also leave one with disorders of the nervous system, such as peripheral neuropathy, making even walking painful, and disrupting balance. Many of these issues can take a very long time to improve, but research has shown that a program of fitness and exercise can not only aid in recovery, but also reduce the risk certain cancers forming and/or returning.
Here’s great info from National Cancer Institute:
(From: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/physical-activity-fact-sheet; Go to link for references)
· Any movement that uses skeletal muscles and requires more energy than does resting
· Can include working, exercising, performing household chores, and leisure-time activities such as walking, tennis, hiking, bicycling, and swimming.
· Is essential for people to maintain a balance between the number of calories consumed and the number of calories used.
Consistently expending fewer calories than are consumed leads to obesity, which is linked to increased risks of 13 different cancers:
Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus
Colon and Rectal cancer
Breast cancer (postmenopausal)
Uterine cancer (endometrial)
Renal Cell (Kidney) cancer
Multiple Myeloma (Blood cancer)
Evidence also indicates that physical activity may reduce the risk of getting several cancers through other mechanisms, independent of its effect on obesity.
A recent study from the National Cancer Institute, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, strongly supports the theory that regular exercise reduces the risk of many types of cancer. The research team pooled the results of 12 large studies conducted both in the United States and Europe, including over 1.4 million people. Study participants provided information on their lifestyle, including physical activity. All of the illnesses they developed were recorded, including nearly 190,000 cases of cancer.
The research team compared the rates of cancer in those people with the highest levels of physical activity and those with the lowest levels. They found that those with the highest levels of physical activity had lower rates of cancer of the esophagus, lung, kidney, colon, head and neck, rectum, bladder, and breast, as well as of two cancers of the blood (myeloma and myeloid leukemia). The rates of these cancers in the most active people were 7% to 38% lower than in the least active people. Interestingly, the most active men had a 4% higher rate of prostate cancer and a 28% higher rate of melanoma. The researchers doubted the significance of the very slightly higher rate of prostate cancer, and they presented evidence that the higher rate of melanoma was likely because the more active people spent a lot more time in the sun.
Exercise has a number of biological effects on the body, some of which have been proposed to explain associations with specific cancers, including:
· Lowering the levels of hormones, such as insulin and estrogen, and of certain growth factors that have been associated with cancer development and progression [especially important for reducing risk of breast and colon cancer]
· Helping to prevent obesity and decreasing the harmful effects of obesity, particularly the development of insulin resistance (failure of the body's cells to respond to insulin)
· Reducing inflammation
· Improving immune system function
· Altering the metabolism of bile acids, resulting in decreased exposure of the gastrointestinal tract to these suspected carcinogens [especially important for reducing risk of colon cancer]
· Reducing the amount of time it takes for food to travel through the digestive system, which decreases gastrointestinal tract exposure to possible carcinogens [especially important for reducing risk of colon cancer]
The benefits of physical activity/fitness for cancer survivors (and remember, by current definition, you are considered a survivor from the day you are diagnosed):
· Not only reduces chance of getting certain cancers, but also reduces incidence of recurrence
· Improves prognosis and likelihood of survival
· Improves quality of life—including self-esteem, emotional well-being, sexuality, sleep disturbance, social functioning, anxiety, fatigue, depression and pain
· Reduces incidence and severity of other chronic conditions which may complicate care, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes
· Reduces body weight and body mass index (which may have increased as a result of cancer therapy)
· Improves cognitive function
· Reduces side effects of some cancer therapies (Dr. Ligibel of Dana Farber has done studies that showed exercise reduced the side effects of aromatase inhibitors used to treat some breast cancers https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4372849/ and http://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/exercise-helps-ease-ai-side-effects)
How much exercise should we be getting?
Adults need at least:
2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
NOTE: 10 minutes at a time is fine
We know 150 minutes each week sounds like a lot of time, but it's not. That's 2 hours and 30 minutes, about the same amount of time you might spend watching a movie. The good news is that you can spread your activity out during the week, so you don't have to do it all at once. You can even break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day. It's about what works best for you, as long as you're doing physical activity at a moderate or vigorous effort for at least 10 minutes at a time.