Thursday, January 9, 2014

Exercise and Treatment of Cancer

“You have Cancer”. The three words I never wanted to hear. And yet, there it was. For a second the world goes dark and everything appears upside down and backwards. What seemed like an endless life now has finality and maybe sooner rather than later. How could this happen? Why me? Where did I go wrong? And finally the big question: What can I do about it? Tests are done, consultations sought, and a plan emerges. It might be chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, or all of the above. And so the battle begins. We all want the same thing: Life, quality life, and more of it. I promised myself I would do whatever it took to obtain those precious goals. For me it was surgery, a pretty big one. The recovery was slow and painful but in the end I was deemed “A Survivor”. But that was not the end of the story. The treatment had left me de-conditioned and overweight and at risk for more health problems including potential recurrence of cancer. I had survived the cancer now I had to survive the treatment. For me the solution was simple: Exercise. And that was the beginning of the journey that lead to The Doctors Workout.

When looking at prevention and treatment of cancer it is difficult to isolate exercise from it’s closely related cousins diet and weight management. In fact they are all important and to a certain degree inter-related. That is why at MD Fitness we have added healthy recipes through “Anne’s Kitchen”. Between diet and exercise it is estimated that we could prevent 35% of cancers overall. Let’s look at the 10 deadliest cancers individually and what we have discovered:

  1. Lung and Bronchial cancer: This is still the number one killer cancer in the United States linked to smoking and use of tobacco. An estimated 36% could be prevented with changes in diet and exercise with several studies showing a preventive as well as therapeutic benefit separately from exercise.
  2. Colorectal cancer: This is one of the most studied cancers in regard to exercise. An estimated 50% of cases could be prevented in the United States by diet and exercise with more than three dozen studies showing a reduction by 20% or more by exercise alone separate from the effects of diet and weight changes. In addition, patients who exercised were 28% – 42% less likely to die during or after treatment than sedentary patients.
  3. Breast cancer: Over 70 studies have looked at the association between exercise and breast cancer. Over two dozen studies have shown that women who exercise have a 30% - 40% lower risk of developing cancer. At least one study has demonstrated improved survival rates and less recurrence in women who exercise. Multiple studies have demonstrated improved quality of life reduced loss of bone density and increased muscle strength. This can be particularly important for shoulder girdle strength after breast surgery. 
  4. Pancreatic cancer: It has been shown that obese people with a sedentary lifestyle have twice the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Researchers at Harvard have found that walking or hiking as little as 1.5 hours a week can reduce the risk of this cancer by 50%. Diet and exercise together can result in a 19% reduction in the overall number of cases.
  5. Prostate cancer: Over 3 dozen studies have looked at exercise and Prostate cancer with at least two studies demonstrating a lower risk in patients who exercise. There has been an association found between exercise and less aggressive forms of prostate cancer. It has also been shown that exercise can reduce a prostate cancer patient’s risk of dying from the disease by about 30%.
  6. Leukemia: At least one study published in the Annals of Oncology demonstrated that people who were the most physically active had a lower risk of all hematologic cancers including leukemia. Adults who regularly walked or got any form of physical activity had a lower risk of developing leukemia and cancers that affect the blood and lymph system. Another study from the University of North Carolina showed that physical activity significantly improves symptoms of fatigue and depression, increases cardiovascular endurance and maintains quality of life for adult patients undergoing treatment for leukemia. 
  7. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: The effects of exercise on lymphoma were the same as with leukemia
  8. Liver cancer: The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) estimates that 15% of liver cancer cases could be prevented with better management of diet, activity, and weight management. A recent study concluded that exercise can lower the risk of a type of liver cancer based on a study using mice.
  9. Ovarian cancer: Several studies have demonstrated an association between physical activity and a reduced risk of Ovarian cancer.
  10. Esophageal cancer: the Mayo Clinic recently reported on four studies observing that people who were physically active had a 32% lower risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma with a 19% overall reduction of esophageal cancer risk compared to the least physically active people.

The reasons for such a diverse group of cancers to have similar benefits from exercise include:
  1. Helping with weight control
  2. Lowering blood pressure
  3. Improved cardiovascular function
  4. Improving glucose and insulin tolerance
  5. Improving health of muscles, bones, and joints
  6. Improving digestion with less constipation
  7. Improving quality and length of sleep
  8. Lessening nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy
  9. Improved appetite
  10. Improved mood while decreasing stress and anxiety
  11. Boosting the immune system
  12. Increasing the production of white blood cells
  13. Lowering certain cancer related hormone levels (estrogen in women, testosterone in men)

When you look at such an impressive list of health benefits directly related to exercise it is no wonder that it is rapidly becoming the standard of care in the treatment of most cancers. Imagine if there was a drug that could do all the things that exercise can do. It would be the most prescribed medication in history. So if like me, you are ever given those three life changing words “You have cancer” and are ready to fight for your life, get off the couch and ready to sweat. And we at MDfitness are ready to help the fight and get your life back.

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