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.

Final Follow-up with My Surgeon

Mood: Accomplished 😊

I had my final follow-up appointment with my surgeon earlier this week. Both sides of my chest look good. During my surgery he stitched up my breasts from underneath a little bit so the implants would drop and settle without making my entire chest drop too much. During the first reconstruction surgery I had a breast lift so it was important that during the second reconstruction surgery, when he inserted my implants, that all the work he had done with my lift would not be ruined.

It has been 9 weeks since my surgery and my breasts are almost completely done dropping into a natural position. I am completely healed from surgery and cleared, no restrictions! It was important for me to get to the place where I am cleared with no restrictions because I have been having issues with a bulge on the side of my left breast, the side where the cancer was, that has been causing me some pain and discomfort since my first surgery over a year ago. The pain isn’t constant, but it is enough to bother me. I am feeling pain and pressure both when my arm is resting against the side of my breast and if I wear a bra for more than a few hours. With most of my clothes I don’t have to wear a bra anymore thanks to my reconstruction surgeries, but now I feel like I don’t have an option concerning wearing a bra or not due to the pain and discomfort.

During my last follow-up appointment with him we discussed this problem and it seemed like it might go away with time. He also stressed that it is difficult to operate due to pain, as he would be blind going in, not being able to actually see what is causing the problem. But since that appointment the pain and discomfort has only gotten worse so I mentioned it to him again this week during my appointment and we talked about it in more detail.

I asked him if he thought that the bulge was fat or tissue and he said that fat is tissue. So I asked if getting back to working out and maybe even lifting weights, now that I am cleared, would help give me some relief or even possibly get rid of the problem altogether. He said that it possibly could help and it was worth a try before falling back on having  another surgery that could fix the problem or not, no guarantees. So, we agreed to wait and see what happens once I am working out again and instead of making an appointment for three months out, the normal amount of time, we will see how I am doing in 7 weeks when I go back to see him after my mammogram in mid-August for my results.

In other news….here is a picture of what my hair looks like now! After 8 months of growth, I am a blonde again! 😁 I couldn’t deal with the dark/gray hair anymore…it was seriously depressing me!