Exercise: An Integral Partner in Cancer Treatment and Cancer Recovery


By Shira Litwack  | Submitted On February 05, 2014

As a cancer exercise specialist I continuously have the pleasure of facilitating people to launch retaliatory attacks on cancer with exercise. Addressing, fixing our biochemical terrain, and so much more...

The right exercise, in the right amount, can help regulate all of these biochemical saboteurs.

Glycemia: Let us all count the ways... but really our muscle mass is the real hero here... taking sugar out of the blood stream into the muscle... just as strength training is a diabetics best friend. Sugar feeds cancer. Exercise reduces Insulin resistance, lowering levels of blood insulin, a growth factor, discussed further below.

Inflammation: Again our muscle mass is key here to control the inflammatory chemicals secreted by cancer cells. A sedentary lifestyle allows protein loss from body tissues. Inflammatory responses are like wildfire without exercising the muscles, leading to muscle wasting and destruction of the immune system. Cachexia is an unfortunate side effect of many cancer treatments, exercise is the best retaliatory defence.

Oxidative stress: Now here we do have to be very careful of balance, slow and steady wins this race. The right type and dosage of exercise produces enzymes that reduces free radicals. However, too much exercise can produce free radicals.

Besides the regulation of these terrain setters, exercise also provides many other profound aspects of cancer recovery:

Surgery and radiation: tightness, muscular imbalances, postural implications, scar tissue... just a few of the expected inevitabilities, especially if amputation was necessary. The proper combination of strength and stretching can restore the body and in many cases surpass pre surgery levels of strength, flexibility, range of motion and cardio respiratory status.

Exercise during treatment: Studies agree as harrowing as treatment can be, exercise can increase stamina, strength, self esteem, and control pain, which are all often debilitating during treatment.

Maintaining a healthy body fat level is front and center for cancer recovery. Depending on the cancer an increase in adiposity (breast, prostate, colon) can dangerously threaten recovery. Consistent physical activity and exercise is critical here.

Blood Coagulation: yet another serious threat to cancer recovery and immune function. Being sedentary cripples the clotting system. Exercise increases blood circulation and makes the blood more fluid. Our power pump muscles (various leg muscles) force blood to travel back to the heart. This is why the advice of "bed rest" is really an enemy of illness. Improved circulation delivers more oxygen and nutrients to tissues, and reduces the chance of embolisms.

Exercise can also boast enabling greater NK cell activity - Natural Killer cells from our immune system. Exercise also increases macrophages, anti cancer compounds from immune cells.

An effective exercise program will also allow the cancer patient proper sleep, another crucial component to recovery. Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise can drastically reduce treatment fatigue and improve quality of sleep dramatically.

Exercise improves absorption of nutrients which is often compromised in cancer treatments.

And to me personally, the coolest part of exercise and cancer... the appropriate form of exercise before chemotherapy treatments can dramatically increase the effectiveness of treatment, by actually altering the permeability of cell membranes.

Exercise provides hormonal balance, controlling stress responses and Growth factors including estrogen, insulin which promote breast, ovarian, endometrial lung, prostate cancers and other solid tumor cancers.

Diarrhea is a common side effect of radiation. Aerobic exercise can reduce this potentially deadly side effect by 25%.. If constipation is the issue, the right exercise can decrease bowel transit time.

Lymphedema is the swelling that occurs when lymph fluid builds up in the soft tissues of the limbs. This is a very painful possible complication of cancer surgeries, especially breast cancer. Careful exercise is a precise science & art in both the prevention and relief of lymphedema.

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