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Exercise is medicine!

A dose of physical activity everyday can work wonders for your body and mind.

“Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person's physical, emotional, and mental states.”

-Carol Welch

In a way, it may feel counterintuitive to exercise while you are feeling tired and nauseous, but science has shown that exercise has tremendous biological effects on the cellular mechanisms that are connected with cancer development as well as treatment response. These effects include regulating the levels of sex hormones such as estrogen that have been associated with breast cancer development and progression, preventing high blood levels of insulin which has been linked to cancer development and progression, reducing inflammation, improving immune system function, speeding digestion which decreases gastrointestinal tract exposure to possible carcinogens as in the case of colon cancer and helping to prevent obesity, which is a risk factor for many cancers.

Data analysis of nearly 700 unique exercise intervention trials involving more than 50,000 cancer patients shows that patients benefit greatly from physical activity.

The benefits include reduced toxicity of anticancer treatment, decreased disease progression, and enhanced survival, just to name a few of the important ones. Exercise and training also improve mood, decrease muscle mass loss, and help cancer patients return to work earlier after a successful treatment journey. Given these undeniable benefits, there is no doubt that exercise should become part of your daily routine. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as the American College of Sports Medicine recommend that most adults including cancer patients who are able to, should engage in

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, jogging, cycling, yoga) each week.

  • 2 to 3 resistance training (e.g., lifting weights) sessions each week involving moderate to vigorous intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups.

This translates to about 21 minutes per day of exercise, plus a couple of muscle-building sessions per week.

“If we could turn the benefits of exercise into a pill it would be demanded by patients, prescribed by every cancer specialist and subsidized by the government. It would be seen as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment.” Prue Cormie, PhD, Exercise Physiologist

As always, talking to and being guided by your cancer care team before starting any exercise program is essential. For example, if you are getting radiation, swimming is not the right exercise choice as the chlorine in the water may irritate your skin. Again, you needn’t run but walk at about 3 mph (or 20 minutes per mile) to get to a moderate intensity level. Many cancer patients find yoga a helpful way of easing into a physical activity routine. It can help identify areas in their bodies where they may have limited movement and also areas where they have greater flexibility.

If you are beginning resistance training, start light with say, 2 lb dumbbells and look at completing one set of 8 to 10 repetitions of each exercise. If you can't do at least 8 reps, it is likely that you're using too much weight. Take a 30-second to one-minute break before moving on to a new exercise. However, do not begin strength training when your platelet count is below 50,000; there is risk of bleeding or dizziness.

If you have metastases to your bones, you should discuss the safety of strength training with your oncologist before beginning any program.

With whatever you choose to do, slow and steady is the way to go. Be sure to surround yourself with people who support and encourage you. It makes a difference. So does listening to music while walking or cycling. Dress comfortably, hydrate yourself before you begin, warm up and cool down, but above all be patient with yourself.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first small step.

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Reason to Hope

There is new research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital that indicates a Western-style diet that is rich in red and processed meat, sugar and refined grains/carbohydrates is tied to higher risk of colorectal cancer through the intestinal microbiota.  Gastroenterology, 2022;DOI:10.1053/j.gastro.2022.06.054 

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