By Dr. Mercola
If you're diagnosed with breast cancer, new research suggests that one of the best strategies to improve your chances of recovery is to start a regular exercise program.
This is a radical departure from the now-outdated advice that cancer patients should rest and take it easy the way heart attack patients were treated fifty years ago.
If your oncologist is not yet up to speed on the healing power of exercise, you may want to consider finding one who is …
Exercise after Cancer Diagnosis Improves Survival
A new study has shown that breast cancer patients who start exercising regularly within six months of diagnosis can lower their chances of dying by up to 30 percent.
The researchers found a benefit among those who exercised a minimum of 2.5 hours a week for 18 consecutive months, although the best results came to those who exercised almost every day.
The physical activity supported the women's ability to fight off the disease, improving both overall and disease-free survival.
A separate, earlier study by Harvard Medical School researchers found similar benefits … breast cancer patients who exercise moderately -- 3-5 hours a week -- reduce their odds of dying from breast cancer by about half as compared to sedentary women.i
In fact, any amount of weekly exercise increased a patient's odds of surviving breast cancer, and this held true regardless of whether women were diagnosed early on or after their cancer had spread.
The new recommendation -- that cancer patients and cancer survivors should exercise at least 2.5 hours a week (an amount that should be easily attainable) -- was buttressed in a report by Macmillan Cancer Support.ii As Jane Maher, chief medical officer of Macmillan Cancer Support and clinical oncologist, told BBC News:iii
"The advice that I would have previously given to one of my patients would have been to 'take it easy'. This has now changed significantly because of the recognition that if physical exercise were a drug, it would be hitting the headlines."
Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, echoed these sentiments:iv
"Cancer patients would be shocked if they knew just how much of a benefit physical activity could have on their recovery and long term health … "
You Can Get BETTER Results with FAR Less Exercise
It is important to understand that these researchers were not aware of the superior results of using high-intensity interval Peak Fitness type exercises. That was not part of the study design, but if it were, my guess is that it would have been FAR more effective than the 2.5 hours of exercise they found to be effective. More than likely one hour per week of high intensity would be far more beneficial. But that one hour is TOTAL time including warm up, recovery and cool down. The actual amount of high intensity exercise is only TWELVE MINUTES per week, which is quite extraordinary.
The report noted that evidence is growing to support the role of physical activity at all stages of cancer, both during and after treatment:
"Physical activity is important for cancer patients at all stages of the cancer care pathway. There is evidence to support the role of physical activity for the following stages of the cancer care pathway:
- During cancer treatment – physical activity improves, or prevents the decline of physical function without increasing fatigue.
- After cancer treatment – physical activity helps recover physical function.
- During and after cancer treatment – physical activity can reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and mortality for some cancers and can reduce the risk of developing other long-term conditions.
- Advanced cancer – physical activity can help maintain independence and wellbeing."
Exercise Can Help You Feel Like Yourself Again
A cancer diagnosis is mentally and physically exhausting, and if you are undergoing radiation or chemotherapy as a form of treatment, this can be particularly debilitating (you may want to look into some of the natural cancer treatments available, which do not cause the serious, sometimes deadly, side effects associated with conventional cancer treatment). Exercise can be invaluable here, helping to lessen your symptoms and generally improve how you feel, which means you'll be able to get back to your normal life more quickly.
The Macmillan Cancer Support report highlighted the following ways that exercise can help you to mitigate some of the common side effects of conventional cancer treatment, including the ability to:
Reduce fatigue and improve your energy levels Manage stress, anxiety, low mood or depression Improve bone health Improve heart health (some chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy can cause heart problems later in life) Build muscle strength, relieve pain and improve range of movement Maintain a healthy weight Sleep better Improve your appetite Prevent constipation
Why You Should Start Exercising Even if You're Cancer-Free...
Exercise is one of the most powerful strategies available to reduce your cancer risk, so starting a program while you're cancer-free should increase your chances of staying that way.
The notion that exercise may help prevent cancer dates back to 1922, when two independent studies observed that cancer deaths declined among men working occupations that required higher amounts of physical activity. Since then a paper in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reported that "more than a hundred epidemiologic studies on the role of physical activity and cancer prevention have been published."v
In the same paper, which reviewed published epidemiologic studies on physical activity and the risk of developing cancer, it's noted that:
"The data are clear in showing that physically active men and women have about a 30-40% reduction in the risk of developing colon cancer, compared with inactive persons … With regard to breast cancer, there is reasonably clear evidence that physically active women have about a 20-30% reduction in risk, compared with inactive women. It also appears that 30-60 min·d-1 of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity is needed to decrease the risk of breast cancer, and that there is likely a dose-response relation."
How Does Exercise Fight and Prevent Cancer?
One of the primary reasons exercise works to lower your cancer risk is because it decreases your insulin receptor sensitivity thus lowering your insulin and leptin levels. Controlling insulin levels is one of the most powerful ways to reduce your cancer risk. It's also been suggested that apoptosis (programmed cell death) is enhanced by exercise, increasingly the likelihood that cancer cells will die. Exercise also improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood, as well as your lymphatic system, which has no "pump" other than your bodily movements. The job of these cells is to neutralize pathogens throughout your body, as well as destroy precancerous cells before they become cancerous.
According to a study published in the British Medical Journal,vi which explored the relationship between exercise and cancer, exercise affects several biological functions that may directly influence your cancer risk. These effects include changes in:
Cardiovascular capacity Energy balance Pulmonary capacity Immune function Bowel motility Antioxidant defense Hormone levels DNA repair
Tips for Exercising Safely if You Have Cancer
You may find that you're able to take part in a regular exercise program -- one that involves a variety of exercises like strength training, core-building, stretching, aerobic and anaerobic -- with very little changes necessary. Ideally your fitness program should be like any other -- comprehensive, providing activities that will improve your strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and fat-burning capabilities with high-intensity Peak Fitness exercises.
However, you may find that you need to exercise at a lower intensity or for shorter durations at times. Always listen to your body and if you feel you need a break, take time to rest. Even exercising for a few minutes a day is better than not exercising at all, and you'll likely find that your stamina increases and you're able to complete more challenging workouts with each passing day. In the event you are suffering from a very weakened immune system, you may want to exercise in your home instead of visiting a public gym.
What Else Can You do to Help Prevent Breast Cancer?
It's estimated that about 40 percent of U.S. breast cancer cases could be prevented if people made wiser lifestyle choices. This is not intended to place blame but rather to empower you to take control of your health. I believe these estimates are even far too low, and it is more likely that 75 percent to 90 percent of breast cancers could be avoided by strictly applying the following recommendations.
- Eat healthy. This means avoid sugar, especially fructose, as all forms of sugar are detrimental to health in general and promote cancer. Also, focus on eating whole, organic foods and fresh vegetables while avoiding cancer-causing foods.
- Vitamin D. There's overwhelming evidence pointing to the fact that vitamin D deficiency plays a crucial role in cancer development. You can decrease your risk of cancer by MORE THAN HALF simply by optimizing your vitamin D levels with adequate sun exposure. And if you are being treated for cancer it is likely that higher blood levels—probably around 80-90 ng/ml—would be beneficial. The health benefits of optimizing your levels, either by safe sun exposure (ideally), a safe tanning bed, or oral supplementation as a last resort, simply cannot be overstated.
- Get proper sleep both in terms of getting enough sleep, and sleeping between certain hours. According to Ayurvedic medicine, the ideal hours for sleep are between 10 pm and 6 am. Modern research has confirmed the value of this recommendation as certain hormonal fluctuations occur throughout the day and night, and if you engage in the appropriate activities during those times, you're 'riding the wave' so to speak, and are able to get the optimal levels. Working against your biology by staying awake when you should ideally be sleeping or vice versa, interferes with these hormonal fluctuations. It's also important to sleep in complete darkness, as this is what allows your body to produce melatonin, a natural cancer fighter.vii
According to Dr. Christine Horner, a board certified general and plastic surgeon:
"If we, for instance, go to bed by 10, we have higher levels of our sleep hormone melatonin; there's a spike that occurs between midnight and 1am, which you don't want to miss because the consequences are absolutely spectacular. Melatonin is not only our sleep hormone, but it also is a very powerful antioxidant. It decreases the amount of estrogen our body produces. It also boosts your immune system … And it interacts with the other hormones. So, if you go to bed after 10 … it significantly increases your risk of breast cancer."
- Effectively address your stress. The research shows that if you experience a traumatic or highly stressful event, such as a death in the family, your risk of breast cancer is 12 times higher in the ensuing five years. So be sure you tend to your emotional health, not just your physical health.
I recently interviewed Dr. Christine Horner, a board certified general and plastic surgeon, who shared her extensive knowledge about breast cancer—its causes and its cures, and the pro's and con's of various screening methods. I suggest you listen to that interview now, in addition to learning about the many all-natural cancer-prevention strategies listed above.
- i JAMA. 2005;293(20):2479-2486.
- ii Macmillan Cancer Support "The Importance of Physical Activity for People Living With and Beyond Cancer" (PDF)
- iii BBC News August 7, 2011
- iv BBC News August 7, 2011
- v Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise November 2003 - Volume 35 - Issue 11 - pp 1823-1827
- vi BMJ 2000;321:1424
- vii GreenMedInfo.com, Melatonin Research