Exercise may reduce your risk of cancer and help you if you do

Research is also beginning to show that it is possible to determine how much exercise might make a difference after a diagnosis has been made

(Illustration by The Washington Post/iStock)

Rob Newton’s father loved hiking before he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993. But he abandoned them after his doctors told him to take it easy. His son thought this was a bad idea.

“I watched him experience extreme fatigue and a decrease in muscle mass and fitness,” Newton recalls. “I tried to get him to exercise, but his doctors told him to rest.”

Newton, a professor of sports medicine at Edith Cowan University in Australia, is convinced that regular exercise after cancer surgery and during radiotherapy would have prolonged his father’s life. He died – of a stroke – three years later.

How to exercise and what to eat after a cancer diagnosis

“The doctors’ advice killed him due to the rapid onset of vascular disease caused by his sedentary lifestyle,” Newton says. Motivated by his father’s expertise, Newton is now studying the link between exercise and prostate cancer.

“A lot of what was happening to my father was a lack of adaptability and failure of his organs due to his lack of movement,” Newton says. His body was trying to fight off the disease and the toxins from his treatment, but we didn’t provide him with the environment to succeed. I know that if I could get him to exercise every day, he would have lived longer and not struggled as much.”

Today, much in the medical world agrees. Ideas about exercise and how it affects cancer, and which patients treat and recover from, have undergone remarkable changes in the years since Newton’s father passed away.

An increasing amount of the epidemiological literature indicates that exercise reduces cancer risk, controls disease progression, and enhances physical performance and psychosocial outcomes. Evidence not only supports the positive effects of exercise before, during and after cancer treatment, but also suggests that regular exercise over time actually reduces the risk of many types of cancer.

A young cancer patient found that an exercise bike helped him tolerate chemotherapy. Now he wants others to have the same opportunity.

Recent research in breast cancer patients also indicates that regular physical activity can improve cognitive function as well.

“Today, exercise is so well tolerated for its wide range of physical and mental health benefits that it is sometimes difficult to fully appreciate the earlier days, when many aspects were still unknown and we were working through research methods,” Graham Colditz says. , who has been studying the relationship between cancer and exercise for nearly three decades and led a groundbreaking study in 1999 that showed that women who did seven or more hours of moderate or vigorous exercise per week had a 20 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who exercised Moderate or vigorous exercise. She mentioned that she exercises less than one hour per week.

“People have been linking physical activity with good health for centuries, but good evidence of its effect on certain diseases and longer life is relatively recent,” says Colditz, MD, deputy director of the Institute of Public Health at Washington University in St. Colditz. Louis.

By the 1980s, Colditz adds, the links between regular physical activity and cardiovascular health “and the ability of physical activity to help add years to one’s life” were becoming better understood. “For cancer, the research took a little longer to emerge.”

Early studies initially focused on the relationship between highly physically active jobs — messengers, for example — and colon cancer “and showed strong links between activity and lower risk,” Colditz says.

Since then, “the field of exercise oncology has exploded,” says Elizabeth Salerno, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine and co-author of the study of cognition. “We have found consistent and compelling evidence that physical activity plays an important role in the prevention and control of cancer.” According to a growing body of research, among them are cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidneys, and stomach.

Research is also beginning to show that it is possible to determine how much exercise might make a difference after a cancer diagnosis. “Studies show that 150 minutes of exercise per week significantly improves survival,” says Benti Clarlund Pedersen, clinical professor at the University of Copenhagen and head of the Center for Inflammation and Metabolism. “It is becoming more and more clear that exercise can have more direct effects on cancer and its treatment.”

Experts, who have long touted the benefits of exercise on physical and mental health, are beginning to find out why it works for cancer. Research shows that moderate to vigorous exercise induces changes at the molecular level that can affect the development and growth of cancer, reduce debilitating side effects of treatment and prolong survival.

“This means that for aerobic exercise, it must pass the speaking test – that is, you are breathing heavily and can only speak in short phrases,” says Newton. “If you can have a conversation, the intensity is very low. For resistance training, it should be a weight that you can only lift 6 to 12 times. Any weight gain is very light.”

Why you can reduce the risk of seven types of cancer with physical activity

A role in preventing cancer

Research is also focusing on the effects of exercise on other aspects of the body that may play a role in allowing or preventing cancer, including immune function, hormones, and other molecules produced during exercise that may inhibit cancer cell growth, blood flow through tumors, inflammation within the body, and muscle and tissue homeostasis. Fatty, says Newton.

His team is interested in the effect of myokines, which are produced by muscle cells in response to muscle contraction. Exercise increases the core muscle tone, which remains elevated even at rest. “When cancer cells are exposed to these myokins, their growth rate and propensity for metastasis are significantly reduced,” Newton says of his findings.

Moreover, his research, and studies by others, suggest a strong relationship between high fat mass and poor survival in people with cancer, along with a positive relationship between muscle mass and cancer survival, he says. “The take-home message is that people with cancer should preserve or prefer increasing their muscle mass as a priority,” he says, and prevent fat gain.

Recent research led by Michelle Janelsen-Benton, who heads the Laboratory for Cancer Control and Psychoneuroimmunology at the University of Rochester, found that exercise can also reduce the chances of cancer-related cognitive decline (CRCD), a finding that scientists hope to study further. They want to study how exercise affects CRCD, perhaps by producing certain chemicals essential for brain health, for example, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that increases with exercise.

The report says that fitter people are 33 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease

The researchers measured physical activity and cognitive function in breast cancer patients before, during, and six months after treatment. According to the study, physical activity decreased during chemotherapy, but recovered to pretreatment levels in six months. Patients who engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity before and during treatment maintained better cognitive function than those who did not.

“Exercise oncology programs are increasing across the country to promote survival and physical improvement of patients during treatment, but knowledge about the role of exercise in preventing cognitive decline is still emerging,” says co-author Salerno. “We hope that more trials will tell us whether exercise during chemotherapy can also alter the course of this debilitating phenomenon.”

Animal studies — which don’t necessarily translate to humans — suggest that exercise can also trigger an immune system response that shrinks tumors. When Pernell Hogmann was a senior researcher at the Center for Physical Activity Research, Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, she conducted pivotal studies in mice linking exercise-induced natural killer (NK) cells to tumor reduction.

“Mice with access to a running wheel demonstrated a reduction in tumor size and incidence of at least 60 percent across several different tumor models,” says Pedersen, who is a co-author of the study. “[She] It is suspected that natural killer cells are involved in mediating the anticancer effect. I’ve carefully studied tumors from trained and untrained mice and found that tumors from running mice had…five times more natural killer cells. “

While some newly diagnosed cancer patients may resist the advice to act, experts are convinced that being fit to start treatment will enhance resilience and help patients deal with the side effects of treatment. “It’s understandable that someone would just want to pull the covers over their head and hide,” says Daniel Santa Mina, associate professor of exercise and cancer at the University of Toronto. “I always tell them that exercise is more important now than ever.”

Federal government guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week, along with at least two sessions of strength-training resistance training for healthy adults as well as those with chronic conditions or disabilities, the latter recommending exercise under the supervision of a health care provider. Experts say this may differ for some cancer patients undergoing treatment. For example, resistance training may be more valuable for those with muscle loss than aerobic exercise, while aerobic exercise may help patients who are also at risk for heart disease.

Regardless, they agree that it’s better to do something than to do nothing.

“Even if you just walk to the mailbox and back, or just take one flight of stairs, any movement, no matter how short or light, will likely have some benefits,” Salerno says. “It is important to start somewhere.”

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