By Adam McLeod, ND, BSc —
Everyone has heard that exercise is good for your well being. Exercise has been shown to boost mood and increase energy levels. Patients who regularly exercise are statistically less likely to develop a number of very serious health conditions. The effectiveness of exercise is not debated in the medical community, yet when it comes to cancer care, patients often forget about the benefits of exercise as they focus their attention on more exotic treatment plans. Exercise is not a cure for cancer but it is certainly an important part of an integrative cancer program.
How does exercise benefit cancer patients? It turns out there are a number of different reasons exercise has such a positive impact on cancer patients. The immune system becomes more activated during exercise as the monocytes increase the concentration of specific receptors on their surface. Exercise also helps patients significantly with their sleep and it is well documented that the majority of your healing takes place during your sleep. When you get better quality sleep, your cells will be less stressed and this will significantly boost the strength of your immune system. There are numerous physiological and psychological changes that occur with regular exercise that are very beneficial to cancer patients.
Several studies clearly demonstrate that patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation do much better if they are exercising regularly. Exercise is well documented to improve energy levels in patients and this is especially important for patients undergoing cancer treatment. One of the biggest challenges with patients undergoing cancer treatment is fatigue and a sense of decreased vitality. Exercise can certainly help to improve this common side effect. Patients who regularly exercise during these therapies have better clinical outcomes and significantly improved quality of life. Although this is well established in the medical community, it is rarely suggested by medical oncologists. This attitude needs to change because when the body is being exposed to toxic treatments it is essential to use every tool at our disposal to help the body adapt to this stress. Exercise is certainly one of many effective basic tools that can help patients deal with the stress of chemotherapy and radiation.
Not only is exercise important during cancer therapies, it is also effective at preventing cancer recurrence. Although some researchers dispute the significance of recurrence prevention, no one disputes that regular exercise decreases overall mortality in cancer survivors. After a successful surgery, women with estrogen positive breast cancer will be put on tamoxifen for five years minimum to reduce the risk of recurrence by only a few percentage points. In a prospective observational study of almost 3000 RNs with a history of breast cancer, it showed that women who walked three to five hours per week were 43% less likely to develop recurrent breast cancer and 50% less likely to die from breast cancer than women who engaged in less than one hour of physical activity per week. I find it amazing that some patients will readily adhere to taking a drug for 5-10 years; yet, they are resistant to exercising.
The exercise program does not need to be an extreme and rigorous routine. It does not have to be a specific activity, just as long as it gives your cardiovascular system a good workout. Patients simply need to engage in regular aerobic activity. Even a moderate cardio workout for less than 30 minutes, five days per week can be helpful. Make the time for this activity because it can make a significant difference in the patient’s response to treatment.
The bottom line is, at every phase in cancer therapy, regular exercise is a powerful adjunct to conventional cancer therapy. It helps to prevent the development of cancer. It helps patients get through the aggressive cancer therapies necessary to kill the cancer. Regular exercise also helps to prevent the recurrence of cancer after a successfully eliminating the cancerous cells. More cancer patients need to be aware of the simple fact that regular exercise makes a big difference when fighting cancer. Exercise is a simple yet effective adjunctive therapy that should be actively encouraged to every patient that is capable of regular exercise.
A naturopathic doctor that works with oncology will take the time to look at your case and help you effectively integrate exercise into your program.
Dr. Adam McLeod is a naturopathic doctor (ND), BSc. (Hon) molecular biology, First Nations healer, motivational speaker, and international best selling author. He currently practices at his clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia where he focuses on integrative oncology. www.yaletownnaturopathic.com