The advice that cancer patients should rest and take it easy is clearly outdated given the myriad of research showing that regular physical activity can improve health by leaps and bounds, even while you’re undergoing treatment. The new recommendation — that cancer patients and cancer survivors should exercise at least 2.5 hours a week — comes from a new report by Macmillan Cancer Support, which gives a comprehensive overview of exactly why exercise is so important.
As Jane Maher, chief medical officer of Macmillan Cancer Support and clinical oncologist, told BBC News:
“The advice that I would have previously given to one of my patients would have been to ‘take it easy’. This has now changed significantly because of the recognition that if physical exercise were a drug, it would be hitting the headlines.”
Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, echoed these sentiments:
“Cancer patients would be shocked if they knew just how much of a benefit physical activity could have on their recovery and long term health … ”
If You Have Cancer, Exercise is Helpful NOT Harmful
One of the greatest gifts that exercise offers is increasing your chances of beating the cancer. Harvard Medical School researchers found patients who exercise moderately — 3-5 hours a week — reduce their odds of dying from breast cancer by about half as compared to sedentary women. In fact, any amount of weekly exercise increased a patient’s odds of surviving breast cancer. This benefit also remained constant regardless of whether women were diagnosed early on or after their cancer had spread.
Patients receiving the biggest boost from exercise were those most sensitive to estrogen, the most common form of breast cancer. (Previous research has shown exercise lowers estrogen levels, which can fuel the growth of breast cancer cells.)
If you’re male, be aware that athletes have lower levels of circulating testosterone than non-athletes, and similar to the association between estrogen levels and breast cancer in women, testosterone is known to influence the development of prostate cancer in men.
Other research has shown:
Exercising moderately for six hours a week may reduce colorectal cancer mortality and disease recurrence by about 50 percent.
Three hours per week of moderate-intensity physical activity may lower risk of prostate cancer mortality by about 30 percent, and lower the rate of disease progression by 57 percent.
Exercise Lessens Symptoms, Improve Quality of Life
Aside from helping you to survive cancer, exercise will also help to lessen your symptoms and generally improve how you feel, which means you’ll be able to get back to your normal life more quickly. If you are undergoing radiation or chemotherapy as a form of treatment, this can be particularly debilitating. You may want to look into some of the natural cancer treatments available, which do not cause the serious, sometimes deadly, side effects associated with conventional cancer treatment, but either way, exercise is essential. The report from Macmillan Cancer Support noted that exercise can help you to mitigate some of the common side effects of conventional cancer treatment, including:
Reduce fatigue and improve your energy levels Manage stress, anxiety, low mood or depression Improve bone health
Improve heart health (some chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy can cause heart problems later in life) Build muscle strength, relieve pain and improve range of movement Maintain a healthy weight
Sleep better Improve your appetite Prevent constipation
Want to Help Prevent Cancer? Exercise!
Exercise is a powerful anti-cancer strategy, and this is one of the reasons why I urge everyone reading this to get active, starting today. More than 200 population-based studies have linked exercise to your risk for cancer, including cancer of the breast, bowel, prostate, testes, endometrium and lung. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, which explored the relationship between exercise and cancer, exercise affects several biological functions that may influence your cancer risk. These effects include changes in:
Cardiovascular capacity Energy balance
Pulmonary capacity Immune function
Bowel motility Antioxidant defense
Hormone levels DNA repair
A 2009 study showed that men with stronger muscles from regular weight training are up to 40 percent less likely to die from cancer. These findings suggest that muscle strength is just as important as staying slim and eating healthy when it comes to offering protection against deadly tumors.
Cancer thrives on sugar, but regular exercise reduces your insulin levels, which creates a low sugar environment that discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells. Controlling your insulin levels is one of the most powerful steps you can take to reduce your cancer risk and help keep it from returning.
How to Exercise to Best Prevent and Fight Disease
Many public health guidelines still focus primarily on the aerobic component of exercise, but this limited activity can lead to imbalances that may actually prevent optimal health. This is why it’s so important to maintain a well-balanced fitness regimen, that includes not just aerobics, but also strength training, stretching, and most importantly, high-intensity interval training like Peak Fitness.
What’s so great about Peak Fitness?
It’s a potent “anti-aging” strategy, as it will naturally increase your body’s production of human growth hormone (HGH). As you reach your 30s, you enter what’s called “somatopause,” when your levels of HGH begin to drop off quite dramatically. This is part of what drives your aging process. Your HGH levels decrease naturally as you age, but people in this age group also tend to fall into increasingly sedentary life styles, which further exacerbates the decrease.
Regardless of your age, incorporating Peak Fitness exercises can have a dramatic impact on your overall health by improving metabolism and boosting your levels of HGH.
And, as it turns out, this type of exercise is also the most time-efficient, because it can be done in a mere 20 minutes, two to three times a week. For more details, see my previous article Flood Your Body With This “Youth Hormone” in Just 20 Minutes, which includes an interview with fitness expert Phil Campbell who taught me these principles.
Special Considerations if You Have Cancer
If you have cancer or any other chronic disease, you will need to tailor your exercise routine to your individual scenario, taking into account your stamina and current health. Often, you will be able to take part in a regular exercise program — one that involves a variety of exercises like strength training, core-building, stretching, aerobic and anaerobic — with very little changes necessary.
However, you may find that you need to exercise at a lower intensity or for shorter durations at times. Always listen to your body and if you feel you need a break, take time to rest. Even exercising for a few minutes a day is better than not exercising at all, and you’ll likely find that your stamina increases and you’re able to complete more challenging workouts with each passing day.
In the event you are suffering from a very weakened immune system, you may want to exercise in your home instead of visiting a public gym. But remember that exercise will ultimately help to boost your immune system, so it’s very important to continue with your program.