I’ve been accused…

…of suggesting that a more active life (daily walks, strength training, increased joint range of motion, etc.) is a cure for everything.

So, before I jump into this article, I will clearly state: 

I just haven’t found the exception yet.

For many years, research has proven that calorie-burning exercise obviously reduces obesity, heart disease and its relatives—stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol; also the incidences of diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s, etc.

Just when it seemed the list couldn’t get much longer, a major addition: CANCER! Yep, exercise and the prevention of certain CANCERS are clearly linked. And the evidence showing the connection between exercise and improved recovery is just as certain.

This is not opinion or wishful thinking. Most of the research cited here is from the Journal of the American Medical Association, Harvard Medical School and the American Cancer Society.

“Physical activity is central to reducing your risk of cancer,” says Dr. Michael Thun, vice president emeritus at the American Cancer Society. Specifically: at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at least five days per week but preferably 45 to 60 minutes. Let’s call “moderate” activity when your heart and breathing rate increase but you can still have a conversation. In contrast, “vigorous” is when you’re working, sweating and not comfortably talking.

According to a report delivered to the European Cancer Organization and the European Society for Medical Oncology, being fat may become the leading cause of cancer as soon as 2020. Research also shows that colorectal, breast, endometrial, stomach, intestinal and esophageal are the most likely cancers to be directly affected by the increased body fat and resulting hormone production.

Current data indicates as many as one in two men and one in three women will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. Our often-maligned medical community is doing a much better job of following that dreaded diagnosis. Survival and recovery rates are soaring. The hard fact is cancer can be a real opportunity to adopt behaviors proven to improve the quality and longevity of our brief stay here.

First, is it safe to exercise during recovery? Traditionally, exercise programs were recommended after surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. However many current studies are finding that exercise during treatment can enhance the immune system and the ability to function physically and emotionally.

The following are common symptoms and side effects experienced during treatment: cardiopulmonary weakness, depressed mood, fatigue, immune system suppression, muscle weakness and imbalances, nausea, reduced bone mineral density and loss of lean muscle tissue. All of these are directly affected by an appropriate exercise program. This is obviously an oncologist’s decision but we all must take responsibility for our health. Knowledge of current research is one step toward informed discussions with our medical professionals.

And now, what type of exercise is best for survivors? There is not one form of exercise appropriate for all types of cancer survivors. Certain exercises, for instance, can make a common side effect of radiation (lymphedema) worse. General advice is much like that given to us all: cardiovascular walking, strength training (moderate following recovery), improve joint range of motion thru yoga and other gentle movement modalities. The intensity level will probably be more like a previously sedentary person but will improve with consistency.

The realization that we have some control over what we are faced with is impossible to overrate.

If you or someone you know (and that’s the case for most of us) is dealing with cancer treatment and recovery, please encourage that person to stay up to date on the advantages of using this as an opportunity to take charge of his or her life. There is a lot of evidence that says our actions and attitudes can have a profound effect on facing this challenge.