Here’s Why Exercise Is Crucial in Preventing, Treating Cancer

I struggle with getting exercise into my daily routine not because I am too busy, but because I am still dealing with fatigue from over a year of fighting breast cancer. Everything about my journey has been exhausting both physically and mentally. Luckily I am on the other side of treatments and endless doctors appointments so my energy level is slowly improving. Most days I try to get some form of activity in, even if it is just cleaning part of the house or playing with my dog….it all counts and I make sure to remind myself of that.

Written by Matt Berger on October 20, 2019

Strength training two to three times a week along with aerobic exercise three times a week is recommended for cancer prevention.
  • A panel of experts has released guidelines stating that regular exercise can help prevent cancer as well as help people undergoing cancer treatment.
  • The experts recommend 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 times a week and strength training 2 to 3 times a week.
  • Experts say exercise can help prevent cancer by reducing inflammation, keeping weight under control, and boosting the immune system.

Kathryn Schmitz is seeking a paradigm shift.

Schmitz, a professor of public health specializing in cancer at Penn State University, thinks the perception of the ties between exercise and cancer is where the perception of the ties between exercise and heart health was decades ago.

Back then, she said, getting a patient out of bed and moving after a heart attack would be criticized. Today, the benefits of exercise to heart health and recovery are well known.

A similar consensus is emerging in the way the medical field thinks about cancer.

The latest sign in that shift came this week, with the publication of new guidelines that recommend physicians “prescribe” exercise in efforts to reduce the risk of certain cancers and improve the treatment outcomes and quality of life of those with the disease.

“Today if you asked someone with a dad with colon cancer if he should be exercising they’d probably either say no or they don’t know,” Schmitz told Healthline.

Schmitz co-chaired the roundtable — which included experts from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Cancer Society, and 15 other groups — that put together the new guidance.

The gist of the guidance, published in three papers this week, is that exercise can contribute to the prevention of bladder, breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and uterine cancer.

The guidelines also state exercise can help improve survival rates for people with breast, colon, and prostate cancer — as well as the quality of life of those people in terms of reducing side effects of cancer treatment.

How much exercise?

The researchers recommend that people with cancer do 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 3 times a week and strength training such as weights 2 to 3 times a week.

Schmitz said originally the researchers looking into that question sought to find out if there were specific “doses” of exercise that could be tailored to different people with cancer.

But the 30 minutes 3 times a week recommendation seemed to work pretty universally.

They still ended up with their goal of being able to “prescribe exercise like a drug,” Schmitz said. “Just turns out that it’s, say, 600 milligrams for everybody, if you will.”

In terms of cancer prevention, the recommended general physical activity guidelines are at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.

Schmitz says getting more tailored recommendations for cancer prevention is one of the remaining open questions that ongoing research hopes to help answer.

“We don’t know the exact, optimal dose of exercise needed for cancer prevention,” Alpa Patel, the American Cancer Society’s senior scientific director for epidemiology research, told Healthline. “But we know from the evidence to date that the more you do the better.”

Why exercise works

Patel, lead author of the paper that covered the prevention aspects of the new guidance, said how exactly exercise affects cancer prevention is severalfold.

That includes exercise’s effects on reducing inflammation, helping regulate blood sugar and sex hormones, and improving metabolism and immune function.

“Depending on the specific cancer, one or more of those mechanisms may be more important than the others,” he said. “So, for breast cancer, the benefits of exercise are really driven through the impact on sex hormones.”

“It can also affect cancer development or risk through reducing obesity, a risk factor for many cancers,” said Dr. Crystal Denlinger, an oncologist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s panel on survivorship guidelines.

She told Healthline that the exact reasons why exercise affects certain cancers in different ways still needs additional research.

The current recommendations do vary a bit based on personal history, Denlinger noted. But, she said, “at this time, there is no one ‘best’ exercise — anything that gets you moving and active is good.”

She said further trials are under way to evaluate how and when exercise can affect cancer treatment.

The effort underway for Schmitz — through an initiative she started at the American College of Sports Medicine — is pushing to get oncologists to assess and advise cancer patients’ physical activity.

“This is an easy, cheap way to give patients less fatigue and a better quality of life,” she said.

15 Foods That Boost the Immune System

With everything going on these days, it doesn’t hurt to add as many of these foods into your diet as possible. For cancer patients, it is particularly important to keep your immune system protected and boosted with good healthy foods.

Medically reviewed by Amy Richter, RD — Written by James Schend — Updated on April 30, 2020

Immune system boosters

Feeding your body certain foods may help keep your immune system strong.

If you’re looking for ways to prevent colds, the flu, and other infections, your first step should be a visit to your local grocery store. Plan your meals to include these 15 powerful immune system boosters.

1. Citrus fruits

wedges of grapefruit, lime, orange, and lemon on top of a turquoise table

Most people turn straight to vitamin C after they’ve caught a cold. That’s because it helps build up your immune system.

Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections.

Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. With such a variety to choose from, it’s easy to add a squeeze of this vitamin to any meal.

Popular citrus fruits include:

Because your body doesn’t produce or store it, you need daily vitamin C for continued health. The recommended daily amount for most adults is:

  • 75 mg for women
  • 90 mg for men

If you opt for supplements, avoid taking more than 2,000 milligrams (mg) a day.

Also keep in mind that while vitamin C might help you recover from a cold quicker, there’s no evidence yet that it’s effective against the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

2. Red bell peppers

14 red bell peppers on top of a dark wood table

If you think citrus fruits have the most vitamin C of any fruit or vegetable, think again. Ounce for ounce, red bell peppers contain almost 3 times as much vitamin C (127 mgTrusted Source) as a Florida orange (45 mgTrusted Source). They’re also a rich source of beta carotene.

Besides boosting your immune system, vitamin C may help you maintain healthy skin. Beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A, helps keep your eyes and skin healthy.

3. Broccoli

hands holding up a bowl full of broccoli

Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as fiber and many other antioxidants, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your plate.

The key to keeping its power intact is to cook it as little as possible — or better yet, not at all. ResearchTrusted Source has shown that steaming is the best way to keep more nutrients in the food.

4. Garlic

cloves of garlic on a wood table

Garlic is found in almost every cuisine in the world. It adds a little zing to food and it’s a must-have for your health.

Early civilizations recognized its value in fighting infections. Garlic may also slow down hardening of the arteries, and there’s weak evidence that it helps lower blood pressure.

Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.

5. Ginger

slices of ginger on a dark wood table table

Ginger is another ingredient many turn to after getting sick. Ginger may help decrease inflammation, which can help reduce a sore throat and inflammatory illnesses. Ginger may help with nausea as well.

While it’s used in many sweet desserts, ginger packs some heat in the form of gingerol, a relative of capsaicin.

Ginger may also decrease chronic painTrusted Source and might even possess cholesterol-lowering propertiesTrusted Source.

6. Spinach

spinach leaves in a silver pot with a handle

Spinach made our list not just because it’s rich in vitamin C — it’s also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which may both increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems.

Similar to broccoli, spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients. However, light cooking makes it easier to absorb the vitamin A and allows other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid, an antinutrient. 

7. Yogurt

yogurt topped with seeds and granola and placed in a small white and blue floral bowl

Look for yogurts that have the phrase “live and active cultures” printed on the label, like Greek yogurt. These cultures may stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases.

Try to get plain yogurts rather than the kind that are flavored and loaded with sugar. You can sweeten plain yogurt yourself with healthy fruits and a drizzle of honey instead.

Yogurt can also be a great source of vitamin D, so try to select brands fortified with this vitamin. Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and is thought to boost our body’s natural defenses against diseases.

Clinical trials are even in the works to study its possible effects on COVID-19.

8. Almonds

unroasted almonds in a dark-colored bowl on top of beige fabric

When it comes to preventing and fighting off colds, vitamin E tends to take a backseat to vitamin C. However, this powerful antioxidant is key to a healthy immune system.

It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts, such as almonds, are packed with the vitamin and also have healthy fats.

Adults only need about 15 mg of vitamin E each day. A half-cup serving of almonds, which is about 46 whole, shelled almonds, provides around 100 percentTrusted Source of the recommended daily amount.

9. Sunflower seeds

sunflower seeds in a clear jar on top of a turquoise table

Sunflower seeds are full of nutrients, including phosphorousmagnesium, and vitamins B-6 and E.

Vitamin E is important in regulating and maintaining immune system function. Other foods with high amounts of vitamin E include avocados and dark leafy greens.

Sunflower seeds are also incredibly high in selenium. Just 1 ounce contains nearly halfTrusted Source the selenium that the average adult needs daily. A variety of studies, mostly performed on animals, have looked at its potential to combat viral infections such as swine flu (H1N1).

10. Turmeric

turmeric powder, turmeric roots, and turmeric supplements on top of a turquoise and white plate

You may know turmeric as a key ingredient in many curries. This bright yellow, bitter spice has also been used for years as an anti-inflammatory in treating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

ResearchTrusted Source shows that high concentrations of curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinctive color, can help decrease exercise-induced muscle damage. Curcumin has promise as an immune booster (based on findings from animal studies) and an antiviral. More research is needed.

11. Green tea

loose leaf green tea in a white mug on a wrought iron table

Both green and black teas are packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Where green tea really excels is in its levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), another powerful antioxidant.

In studies, EGCG has been shown to enhance immune function. The fermentation process black tea goes through destroys a lot of the EGCG. Green tea, on the other hand, is steamed and not fermented, so the EGCG is preserved.

Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T cells.

12. Papaya

two large papaya halves on a dark wood table

Papaya is another fruit loaded with vitamin C. You can find doubleTrusted Source the daily recommended amount of vitamin C in a single medium fruit. Papayas also have a digestive enzyme called papain that has anti-inflammatory effects.

Papayas have decent amounts of potassium, magnesium, and folate, all of which are beneficial to your overall health.

13. Kiwi

whole kiwi fruits and two kiwi halves in a metal basket with handles

Like papayas, kiwis are naturally full of a ton of essential nutrients, including folate, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C.

Vitamin C boosts the white blood cells to fight infection, while kiwi’s other nutrients keep the rest of your body functioning properly.

14. Poultry

uncooked whole chicken on a metal pan surrounded by salt flakes and a white and blue plaid rag

When you’re sick and you reach for chicken soup, it’s more than just the placebo effect that makes you feel better. The soup may help lower inflammation, which could improve symptoms of a cold.

Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is high in vitamin B-6. About 3 ounces of light turkey or chicken meat contains nearly one-third of your daily recommended amount of B-6.

Vitamin B-6 is an important player in many of the chemical reactions that happen in the body. It’s also vital to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells.

Stock or broth made by boiling chicken bones contains gelatin, chondroitin, and other nutrients helpful for gut healing and immunity.

15. Shellfish

fresh crab and half of a lemon on a white plate placed on a table

Shellfish isn’t what jumps to mind for many who are trying to boost their immune system, but some types of shellfish are packed with zinc.

Zinc doesn’t get as much attention as many other vitamins and minerals, but our bodies need it so that our immune cells can function as intended.

Varieties of shellfish that are high in zinc include:

  • oysters
  • crab
  • lobster
  • mussels

Keep in mind that you don’t want to have more than the daily recommended amount of zinc in your diet:

  • 11 mg for adult men
  • 8 mg for most adult women

Too much zinc can actually inhibit immune system function.

More ways to prevent infections

Variety is the key to proper nutrition. Eating just one of these foods won’t be enough to help fight off the flu or other infections, even if you eat it constantly. Pay attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intake so that you don’t get too much of a single vitamin and too little of others.

Eating right is a great start, and there are other things you can do to protect you and your family from the flu, cold, and other illnesses.

Start with these flu prevention basics and then read these 7 tips for flu-proofing your home. Perhaps most importantly, get your annual flu vaccine to protect yourself and others.

16 Months in Pictures

Mood: Amazed 😌

As I was looking through my pictures the other day I noticed that I have a picture of myself, taken in most months from when I was diagnosed with breast cancer up to the present time. So I decided to make a collection showing how I looked before breast cancer {the first picture} all the way up to how I look now {the last picture}. You can clearly see when the chemotherapy treatments really started to effect how I looked; the loss of my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, my skin getting dryer and my fine lines showing more.

It’s a given that the last 16 months have been hard on me both mentally and physically.  But, nothing tore me down and damaged me more than the chemotherapy treatments did. Chemotherapy took a part of me that I will never get back. When the chemotherapy treatments were over I realized how much the drugs and the stress of everything I had been through up to that point had aged me, a lot. Looking back through my pictures it’s easy to see how much my face has aged and it breaks my heart. I am doing what I can to undo the damage but it has not been an easy process.

Our Wedding Anniversary

Today is our 16th wedding anniversary and I can’t help but look back at this time last year as it was a major turning point in my breast cancer journey. The day after our 15th wedding anniversary last year I started aggressive chemotherapy. I had already gone through my first surgery to remove the cancer and my second surgery to place the port in my chest for my chemotherapy treatments, but little did I know at the time that the most difficult fight of my life was just beginning.

Everything was so overwhelming and it felt like I was floating through all of the doctors appointments, surgeries, scans and tests in a daze. The day of my first chemotherapy treatment is somewhat of a blur now but I do remember sitting down in the chair in the treatment room and starting to cry. I was terrified as I realized that the nurse was about to pump horrible, destructive drugs into my body.

My husband looked at me and asked “Why are you crying?” I said, “It’s so overwhelming knowing what is about to happen to me, what I am about to go through.” He came and sat closer to me and held my hand, trying to comfort me. He had already been through countless appointments, surgeries, etc….with me, but he has never wavered. He has been by my side through many tears, pain, sleepless nights and so many other stages of fighting aggressive breast cancer.

I love you sweetie! Happy Anniversary and thank you for being my rock during the most difficult fight of my life! 💕

16 years and counting! 💕

5 Tips for Coping with Fear of Breast Cancer Recurrence

I agree with so much of what this article talks about. Will I ever not worry about recurrence? Probably not, but I can find a place for that worry in my life, somewhere in the background. Some days I am overwhelmed by thoughts of recurrence, usually sparked by a sudden pain in my breast, which I still have from time to time. The pain is not surprising considering I have had three surgeries on my chest, and it takes awhile for the nerves to fire back up, so I try not to over react. My next mammogram is in August, 6 months after finishing radiation, so I will know for sure at that point if I am cancer free.

Medically reviewed by Krystal Cascetta, MD on May 12, 2020 New — Written by Theodora Blanchfield

Fear of breast cancer recurrence is common among survivors — but it doesn’t have to control your life.

For many breast cancer survivors, the fear of recurrence can be all-encompassing.

You may feel guilt for this — like you should feel more grateful for your health — but it’s completely normal to have both gratitude and fear, says Dr. Gabriela Gutierrez, LMFT, clinical oncology therapist at Loma Linda University Cancer Center.

“Cancer is like an earthquake with many aftershocks,” she says. “Just because the big one of is out of the way doesn’t mean the ripples are gone.”

The journey transitions from a physical one to a mental one, and it may be a lifelong battle. In fact, nearly half of patients have some fear of recurrence.

The good news is that you’re not alone and there are ways to cope.

1. Normalize the fear

Unfortunately, fear is part of the journey, says Gutierrez. It’s perfectly normal that you’re feeling this way. In fact, fear means that you care about your life — that you do have hope for the life ahead of you.

And it’s possible you’re feeling the emotions you pushed to the side during treatment, says Lauren Chatalian, LMSW, a therapist at CancerCare.

“In the treatment phase, an individual is just thinking about survivorship,” she says. On the other side, thoughts of the ordeal you just went through and facing that again can be overwhelming.

Now might be a good time to reach out to a therapist or social worker, especially if you didn’t talk to one while going through treatment. They can help you further normalize and process these feelings.

2. Ask for support

You don’t have to go through this alone. Your loved ones are probably also scared and may fear bringing it up.

“Finding ways to bond against fear together can make it more manageable, rather than having individual battles against fear, which can promote isolation,” says Gutierrez.

But it can feel like an isolating experience, especially if you don’t have any other survivors in your life.

ResearchTrusted Source shows that being part of a breast cancer support group can improve quality of life.

Creating connections with people with similar experiences — either in-person or virtually — can help you feel understood. It may also strengthen your relationships with family and friends by alleviating some of the emotional burden they’re carrying from not knowing how to best support you.

If your loved ones are worrying that you’re overreacting, they should understand that “the survivor is sometimes operating from a lens of trauma,” says psycho-oncologist and breast cancer survivor Dr. Renee Exelbert. “And [you] may therefore see other more minor health issues as indicative of a recurrence.”

Share with them just how normal your fear of recurrence is.

3. Continue being proactive about medical care

It can be tempting to want to bury your head in the sand and never visit another doctor’s office again after a long battle with cancer. But keeping up with your doctor’s appointments, including any medical visits you may have put to the side during treatment, is important.

As you likely already know, early detection is key.

Reach out to your doctor if you’re experiencing any of your original symptoms, or any new symptoms, including pain or physical problems that interfere with your quality of life.

Visiting your doctor after surviving cancer treatment can bring back a flood of memories you may not be prepared for, says Susan Ash-Lee, LCSW, vice president of clinical services at Cancer Support Community.

Writing your questions in advance and bringing a family member or friend with you can be helpful.

4. Regain a sense of control over your body

Cancer can make you feel like your body is betraying you or like it’s not your own.

“An excellent way to regain a sense of control is through diet and exercise,” says Exelbert. “This allows the individual to be an active agent of change, and in command of choices that can positively impact their health.”

Whether you had a mastectomy or not, your body is different now than it was before cancer, and activities that strengthen the mind-body connection, like yoga, can help you feel more grounded, Ash-Lee says. (Of course, always be sure to clear any physical activity with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program!)

Taking time to be mindful can also help you tune in to your bodily sensations, feeling like your body is your own again.

“Mindfulness is simply paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment,” Ash-Lee says. “Being mindful can improve our concentration, enhance our relationships, and help decrease our stress.”

5. Focus on enjoying your life

Sometimes, after treatment, you may be feeling stuck, like you don’t remember what life was like before diagnosis.

“Cancer was able to guide so much of your life during treatment; now that it is out of your body, we don’t want to continue to give it the power to guide you even though it’s gone,” says Gutierrez. “That’s not the life you fought for.”

You get to celebrate now! Facing cancer is one of the hardest things you will ever have to go through — and you survived.

What’s on your bucket list? Now’s the time, if you have the energy, to do all the things you always said you’d do someday.

Take your dream trip, pick up a new hobby, or just schedule time to catch up with the loved ones you didn’t get to see while you were going through treatment.

Take time to appreciate the little things in life.

Breast Cancer Signs & Symptoms

By The American Cancer Society
Last Medical Review: September 18, 2019
Last Revised: September 18, 2019

Knowing how your breasts normally look and feel is an important part of breast health. Although having regular screening tests for breast cancer is important, mammograms do not find every breast cancer. This means it’s also important for you to be aware of changes in your breasts and to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or round. They can even be painful. For this reason, it’s important to have any new breast mass, lump, or breast change checked by an experienced health care professional.

Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
  • Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking or thickened
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes (Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt.)

Although any of these symptoms can be caused by things other than breast cancer, if you have them, they should be reported to a health care professional so the cause can be found.

Remember that knowing what to look for does not take the place of having regular mammograms and other screening tests. Screening tests can help find breast cancer early, before any symptoms appear. Finding breast cancer early gives you a better chance of successful treatment.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

%d bloggers like this: