Exercise and Cancer

By Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

Along with diet, meditation and journaling, one of the major things you can do for yourself to heal from cancer is exercise.  In fact, exercise improves everyone’s health irrespective of cancer.
 
The alarming statistics of cancer incidence are staggering:
 

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  • In 2013, 1 in 4 Canadians will die of cancer (166,400 people diagnosed, 73,800 will die).
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  • In 2013, 1 in 4 Americans will die of cancer (1,660,290 people diagnosed, 580,350 will die).

 
How can we stop this tragedy from happening to us, to our loved ones, to our friends, and to our associates?  Information and ACTION!
 
The research is in that exercise does increase your ability to heal from cancer.  Here is one study – Speck et al. J Cancer Survivorship. 2010
 
Walking is probably one of the easiest exercise actions to take.  Simple walking 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week is sufficient to create huge change.  Walking doesn’t require fancy clothes, an expensive gym membership, fancy gear, or special shoes, although you need shoes that give you comfort and support.  Walking can be incorporated into your day in 3 – 10 minutes stretches.
 
You can walk before your treatment, during your treatment, after your treatment and many years into the future.  I know – I’m a walker as well as a dancer.  I have always loved walking.  You get outside and get fresh air.  You can explore new areas, commune with nature, take a dog along as a buddy, or team up with a friend to help you stay committed to your walk.
 
If you live in an area where it’s not conducive to walking – whether because it’s too cold as it is tonight here in Calgary (-26° C and blowing snow) or rain or the neighbourhood – you can walk in place in front of the TV, walk stairs.  If you live in an apartment building, you walk the halls and stairwells.  My Mom and Dad used to do that in the winter when it was too slippery to walk outside.
 
Lots of malls are open early in the morning before the stores open for ‘mall walkers’.  Join a group.  Then go for coffee afterwards and enjoy some social time.
 
Why not walk to work if you are back to work – or get off a stop or two early from your regular stop.
 
Walk on your lunch hour – that’s what I used to do.  Got me outside, seeing something other than the four walls of my office, seeing a new perspective, getting oxygen instead of stale inside air, which made me sharper for the afternoon.  Lots of offices and/or businesses now have facilities for those who want to exercise – i.e. people who cycle to work as my son does – rain, snow or sunshine.
 
Exercise is a lifestyle issue.  It’s a commitment to you.  The benefits are:
 

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  • Increased survival rates among cancer patients who exercised regularly
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  • Improved quality of life – you just feel better and have more ease moving around
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  • Increased energy – lessening of fatigue which is the #1 reported side effect of cancer
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  • Increased self esteem – your body gets toned, you stand taller, your clothes fit better
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  • Management of weight loss – keeps those extra pounds off as well as gets rid of the extra pounds
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  • Lessens depression – another major side effect of cancer – gets those endorphins flowing
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  • Improves body image – yes, some body parts may have changed, but you still are wonderful and can look wonderful
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  • Increases strength, flexibility and balance – helps prevent the downward side effects of inactivity
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  • Increases oxygen uptake in the body – cancer does not exist in an oxygenated environment
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  • Saves you from a sedentary lifestyle which will lead to increased weight gain, loss of muscle, and loss of bone density

 
There is a new term these days to describe what is happening in North America – it’s called the ‘Sitting Disease’.  We are a generation of people who spend way too much time in front of our TVs, computer screens, Smartphone’s, and driving places instead of being able to walk places.  We live in suburbs which don’t encourage walking.  We used to be much more active in our daily life.  We need to turn that around in order for us all to be healthier.
 
One of the key ingredients to staying on an exercise program is finding something that you enjoy doing.  If you’re having fun, you will stay with the program.  Some of us like to work out on our own.  Some of us enjoy group classes.  Some of us like to work out inside – others outside.  What do you like to do?
 
And what can you do while you are healing?  It may take you time to get back to those activities you did before.  That’s okay.  Just start getting back in shape.
 
There has been a great deal of research done on the benefits of exercise for those going through cancer.  Let me share a wonderful video by Dr. Mike Evans called ’23 and ½ hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health?  This is well worth the time to watch.
 

 
As a former professional dancer, current dance/movement instructor and long term cancer survivor, I can attest to the benefits of exercise.
 
During my treatment, I walked as soon as I was able to get out of bed.  In those days, the chemotherapy was heavy duty with no anti-nausea pills.  I started out slowly, but regardless, went out every day.  At the time, I was also taking tai chi classes.  The first week after chemo, I did just the walking, and then the next two weeks before my next chemo, I went to three classes a week plus my walking.
 
During radiation, I walked every day – sometimes for a half hour, sometimes for an hour.  When I felt awful, I went outside and just walked – and, the truth, I always felt better.  The exercise helped me sleep, gave me a bit of an appetite so I kept my nutrient levels up, took me out of my misery by giving me something else to focus on, and kept my strength up.
 
We’ve talked mostly about walking in this session, but know there are many more ways to stay fit.  Walking is just one of the simplest and least expensive ways I know of to get started.  In other articles, I’ll cover some of the other ways to stay fit – some you may not have thought of that might peak your interest.
 
My hope for you is that you will get moving.  Even a little bit – just do it.  You will be amazed at the rich rewards you will feel and see.  They say a journey always starts with the first step – or something like that.  This is your cancer journey.  Take the first step for you.  Don’t let cancer win.
 

Barbara

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