This week I saw a patient about to embark on chemotherapy for breast cancer. She was deciding whether to pursue a regimen that would reduce her recurrence risk by 50%, or the more aggressive regimen recommended by her oncologist, which would reduce her risk by another 6% but carries the risk of additional longlasting side effects.1
Whatever choice she makes for chemotherapy, I’ve recommended she add regular exercise to her regimen. Exercise is remarkable medicine. In addition to cancer prevention benefits, studies have shown exercise to improve survival after breast, colon and lung cancer by 33 to 50%.2 Nothing heroic is involved: this benefit was achieved simply through cancer survivors walking for 30 minutes five times/week. Exercise at that level costs nothing, has only helpful side effects and confers a far greater incremental benefit than the more aggressive chemotherapy regimen.
Remarkable reduction of cancer recurrence risk alone is a great reason to exercise. Here are 9 more for all of us:
2. Exercise increases circulation and oxygen supply to muscles. Think of a house that hasn’t been ventilated: it gets unpleasant with stale air and trapped odors. We’d want to open windows to release the musty air and allow fresh air in. Tissues only function properly in a well-oxygenated environment. When our circulation doesn’t bring in adequate oxygen, toxic wastes accumulate and cell function deteriorates. Even genes may malfunction, contributing to the development of cancer and other diseases.
3. Exercise increases energy. If you’ve found yourself huffing and puffing while going upstairs, it’s not just “getting older”. It’s a sign that your cells aren’t efficient at making energy. With professional guidance this is typically correctable – at any age.
4. Exercise improves immunity. Regular exercise increases the activity of natural killer cells and killer T cells, critical elements of an efficient immune system. These cells protect us from a gamut of illnesses, from colds and flus to cancer.
5. Exercise supports natural detoxification. It supports optimal function of the liver and bowels, both critical to ongoing detoxification.
6. Exercise improves hormonal function. It regulates production and disposal of our stress-management hormones as well as male and female hormones. Studies convincingly link regular exercise to improvement in menopause-related symptoms.
7. Exercise prevents and reverses excess blood sugar and insulin resistance. By creating greater muscle demand for glucose and regulating the insulin-dependent mechanism which delivers it, exercise is a critical strategy against high blood sugar and insulin resistance, both of which promote cancer and cancer recurrence . If you’re prediabetic or diabetic or have a family history of these conditions, exercise (along with healthful nutrition) is your ticket to good health.
8. Exercise strengthens bones. Exercise is a potent antidote to osteoporosis, another scourge of Western society and a common side effect of cancer treatment. Osteoporosis is much easier to prevent than to treat, so it’s never too soon to incorporate weight-bearing exercise into your health plan.
9. It looks good. Exercise improves metabolic efficiency, so we store less fat and become lighter and more toned. I can see on my patients’ faces whether they’re exercising regularly or not: those who exercise regularly express a vitality that those who don’t can’t match.
10. It feels good. Exercise releases endorphins, which elevate mood. It produces a feeling of accomplishment. It’s even an effective antidepressant, without the side effects of pharmaceutical antidepressants.3
Want more joy and freedom from physical complaints, but not sure how to start? Give me a call: I’ve got lots of ideas to get you moving, and have fun doing it. We’ll cheer together as you celebrate the health benefits you achieve!
1 Stated recurrence risks are compared to absence of conventional treatment; ie, not taking chemotherapy.
2 For example: Irwin ML et al, Physical activity and survival in postmenopausal women with breast cancer: results from the women’s health initiative, Cancer Prevention Research, 2011 Apr; 4(4): 522-9.
3 Chen X et al, Exercise, tea consumption, and depression among breast cancer survivors, Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2010 Feb 20; 28(6): 991-8.