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Can Exercise Really Help To Combat Cancer?

By Jon, published on 28/08/2019 We Love Prof - AU > Health and Fitness > Personal Training > Is Exercise Really A Cure For Cancer?

“It is proven that doing sports reduces the risk of developing breast or colon cancer by 25%. Moreover, if practised regularly and intensely enough during treatments, it can reduce the risk of recurrence by 50%.”

So it would appear that doing sport throughout one’s life is an excellent cancer drug. After all, exercise has always been crucial to a healthy lifestyle, being beneficial in the fight against all sorts of chronic illnesses. For example, exercise is really good at lowering your blood pressure.

In 2014 in the UK, it was estimated that there was over 356,000 new cases of cancer. According to a research study, cancer is the leading cause of premature death before the age of 65 in both men and women, accounting for 38% of male deaths and 47% of female deaths during 2004-2008.

Nowadays oncologists are no longer just experts in chemotherapy, but they are also a kind of exercise coach, as being in good physical shape inevitably helps fight the effects of cancer.

To prevent the recurrence of cancer in a person who has previously suffered, sport and exercise is recommended – simple day-to-day activities won’t be enough.

Physical activity is proven to help fight cancer Decrease the risk of cancer recurrence with sports! Photo via VisualHunt.com

Medical professionals would recommend to start relatively intensive sports training in order to avoid even the slightest risks of a patient’s cancer coming back.

When a person has successfully fought their cancer, this is known as remission, as it is uncertain whether the cancer could still come back. In this article, Superprof looks at the effects of sports coaching on the risk of cancer recurrence.

Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy Body – Where’s The Science?

“If we could turn the benefits of exercise into a pill it would be demanded by patients, prescribed by every cancer specialist and subsidized by government. It would be seen as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment.” – Prue Cormie, Clinical researcher and exercise physiologist and chair of the COSA Exercise Cancer guidelines committee

Dr Cormie goes as far as to say that to hold sick patients back from exercising could actually be more harmful to their health.

But how exactly is the body affected by getting active in the gym? In a scholarly article titled ‘Exercise-induced biochemical changes and their potential influence on cancer: a scientific review’ (Thomas RJKenfield SAJimenez A. Exercise-induced biochemical changes and their potential influence on cancer: a scientific review.

Following exercise, our bodies experience biological, metabolic, epigenetic and inflammatory modifications.

“Exercise can influence the phenotype expression of inherited genes via epigenetic biochemical alterations to chromosomes, such as histone modifications, DNA methylation, expression of microRNAs (miRNAs) and changes of the chromatin structure. “

“Telomeres, the sequences of nucleotides at the end of the chromosomes that protect their integrity, are shortened with each cell division, so telomere length correlates with biological age. Exercise has epigenetic effects on the telomere as well, which help to prevent its deregulation by protecting it from transcription errors caused by transcription of non-coding RNA, which occur during cell division. In a clinical study involving men with early prostate cancer, those regularly exercising and eating healthily had longer telomeres and reduced prostate-specific antigen progression compared with sedentary controls with less healthy diets.”

“Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) is a neuropeptide that increases proliferation, survival, androgen resistance and de-differentiation in human breast and prostate cancer cells lines. Serum VIP has been shown to transiently increase after acute exercise.”

“Exercise, particularly if strenuous, produces reactive oxidative species (ROS) that, if significant, increases oxidative stress on DNA, which could potentially contribute to the initiation and progression of cancer.”

“Heat shock proteins (HSPs) are produced in tissues, in response to a wide variety of physiological and environmental insults including infection, hypoxia, hyperthermia, dexamethasone and chemotherapy. They are also increased acutely following a bout of exercise.”

“High levels of androgens are associated with a higher incidence of prostate cancer, but what happens to testosterone after exercise is complex and depends on the underlying level of fitness, exercise intensity and even mood at the time of training.”

“Irisin is a type I trans-membrane messenger protein, which is produced in muscle cells in response to exercise. One study reported that higher levels were linked to more favourable breast cancer prognostic risk at diagnosis. In laboratory studies, irisin significantly reduced cancer cell proliferation, migration and viability in malignant cancer cell lines, without affecting non-malignant cells.”

“Higher levels of inflammatory markers have also been found to be associated with cancer incidence, more advanced cancers at presentation and an increased risk of cancer-specific mortality. Markers of chronic inflammation are higher among individuals who are overweight, sedentary, those with poor diets, type II diabetes and the elderly.”

“It has long been established that exercise reduces plasma insulin levels leading to increased insulin sensitivity in volunteers and athletes, but more recently this biochemical response has been reported in exercise intervention studies involving breast cancer survivors.”

“Obesity, oestrogen, leptin and the effects of weight reduction: The neuropeptide cytokine leptin and sex hormone oestrogen are generated in fat cells, so overweight, particularly postmenopausal women, have higher endogenous levels. Leptin is known to promote breast cancer directly and independently, as well as through involvement with the oestrogen and insulin signalling pathways, via enhanced angiogenesis and cell proliferation, which explains the links between higher levels of leptin, adiposity and hormone-related cancers such as breast, prostate and ovary cancer.”

“Exercise and dietary modification help weight control and lower serum triglycerides, total cholesterol, and improve the ratio of high density lipoprotein to low density lipoprotein. Epidemiological studies have suggested that high levels of cholesterol in the blood are associated with increased risk of cancer and progression of cancer.”

“Vitamin D levels and sunlight exposure: Excess sunlight, particularly associated with sunburn, is the main cause of epithelial skin damage, premature ageing and skin cancers and clearly should be avoided. On the other hand, regular sensible sun exposure has an anticancer property by maintaining adequate serum vitamin D levels.”

“Psychological well-being: As well as being distressing, anxiety and depression have been linked to reduced survival following radical cancer treatments. Regular exercise, especially if in groups and combined with relaxation, mindfulness and healthy eating programmes have been shown to help alleviate mood, and reduce anxiety and fear of relapse.”

“In conclusion, clinical studies suggest a significant benefit for regular exercise after cancer for improving well-being and disease outcomes.”

So, what does this vast scientific study of the effects of exercise on preventing and curing cancer tell us?

What the above studies tell us are that we have an element of control over our health. Although we have always thought that many cancers hit people at random, which is likely still the case (because, otherwise, scientists would be much closer to finding a cure if it was this straightforward, wouldn’t they?) the facts are right there staring at us in the face: exercise has been proven to significantly improve your chances of surviving an illness like cancer and of preventing it altogether, in some cases.

If that isn’t motivation enough to start up an exercise routine, I don’t know what is!

What Level of Sports Coaching is Necessary?

The cancer is characterized by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in certain areas of the body. Cloned cells acquire characteristics similar to healthy cells, and divide indefinitely into the body.

Some cells also migrate to other areas of the body, causing growths to develop and cancer to spread quickly and widely. For this reason, the later a person has a cancer screening, the more difficult it is to treat the cancer, and the greater the risk of recurrence.

This is why it’s important to follow a health plan for physical activity, supported by a healthcare team, with the expertise of a specialised fitness coach.

During the course of the disease, patients can experience inflammation as a result of cytokine secretion, resulting in mental and physical fatigue.

Cytokines are cellular signalling substances synthesized by cells of the immune system: in other words, these substances play an active role in development, immune response, inflammation and reproduction. They therefore also take part in cancerous cell division.

Cytokines contribute to the destruction of the muscles in a person suffering from cancer. It’s been proven that one of the best treatments is exercise and fitness training to build-up and strengthen muscles. 

By reducing the level of cytokines in the blood, physical activity will effectively fight against the feeling of fatigue while at the same time working to strengthen muscle, which is necessary to avoid conditions such as sarcopenia.

If it is difficult, patients can start from small and gentle efforts, practising physical activity that they feel comfortable and confident with before building up to anything more advanced or strenuous.

Find a sport that works for you, and work at it! Building up from small efforts is often the best way to begin! Photo credit: Sole Treadmill via VisualHunt.com

It should also be noted that weight gain would add a high risk factor for recurrence and further illnesses. To facilitate weight loss, a fitness coach will be your new best friend!  You’ll find that combining physical activity and a healthy lifestyle will only be beneficial in your fight against cancer.

So what kind of coaching can help to treat cancer? Could training like a top athlete be adapted to oncology and healthcare?

Since the spring of 2016, a regional cancer research centre in France has been conducting an innovative experiment in the field of oncology: some patients are physically and mentally trained and treated as if they were high-level athletes.

The results are so convincing that the University of Marseilles will even create an onco-coaching diploma at the beginning of the academic year 2017. The objective – named Rebond – is to encourage people in remission to do intensive sports to avoid recurrences.

The knowledge and expertise of high-level sports teachers could therefore be invested into the field of specialised medicine!

Studies to Show the Benefits of Exercise Classes in Fighting Cancer

So we know now that physical activity is really important in the treatment of cancer, from the smallest of efforts to a full-blown training programme. This helps to limit the risk of recurrence for all types of cancer.

It is scientifically proven that sustained and regular physical activity helps to:

  • Prepare the body for treatments
  • Limit postoperative complications
  • Fight against fatigue
  • Increase the chances of survival

As long as the criteria of intensity, regularity and frequency prescribed by your personal trainer are met, sport can also reduce the side effects and toxicity of cancer treatments.

Studies of colon, breast and prostate cancer have shown that regular sport and exercise reduces the risk of recurrence by 50% and facilitates a return to social, family and professional life.

With the issues of psychological trauma and social stigmatization, it can be really difficult to regain a normal life after dealing with cancer.

An American study carried out in 2007 by the National Institute of Health (NIH) looked at how 252,925 men and women showed “an inverse association between the level of physical activity and the risk of cancer mortality.”

So as people did more exercise, the risk of cancer mortality lessened. This shows us that the more active the individual is, the better the chances of beating the disease.

A French study published in 2014 called VICAN2 follows the lives of 4349 patients two years after their cancer diagnosis, and presents the benefits of physical activity in avoiding recurrence.

They confirmed that sports practice helped them to:

  • Fight against decreased muscle mass
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Rebuild social lives and fight feelings of isolation
  • Improve body image and self-confidence
  • Combat the risk of depression

Lastly, a 2013 study carried out on 11 children with cancer demonstrated that the sports and physical activity program implemented by personal trainers had a positive impact on both the physical and psychological health of the children.

Exercise Could Help Avoid Cancer Recurrence

No one can dispute the therapeutic benefits of fitness training programmes to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

We all know that exercise is good for us, but what’s best is to find a personal trainer near me to train with you either at home or in the gym, with coaching adapted to your particular physical capabilities.

Win the battle against cancer Exercise is an incredible therapy to fight off cancer. Photo via Visual hunt

The relaxation of the muscle tissues allows for the secretion of dopamine, melatonin and serotonin – neurotransmitters that improve sleep, recovery and general happiness and well-being. This is why exercise is also helpful in fighting depression and anxiety.

These hormones will help to limit the growth of tumour cells and strengthen up the immune system.

Don’t worry – personal training does not mean sculpting your body like a top athlete! Even minimal training will help to fight against fatigue and will help to support immunotherapy or chemotherapy treatments.

When it comes to exercise, the world is your oyster! Why not give some of these a try?

  • Running

Our race evolved to become effective endurance walkers and runners, from the shape of our feet and hips, the length of our legs, our shock-absorbing spine structure down to our ability to cool ourselves down with sweat. Running is one of the most psycologically-rewarding sports you can do (you get a sense of freedom and are always travelling somewhere) and most effective physically, and we’re naturals at it – each and every one of us if we try and train!

Running improves cardiovascular health, burns calories, builds up strength and muscle tone. What’s more, running is free. You can just find a road or open space and go.

  • Weight training

Weight training is not only a great way to build muscle, it can improve mood, aid in losing weight, and also prevent some illnesses.

Lifting weights increases the strength of connective tissue, muscles and tendons. In a roundabout way, pumping iron in the gym can help you lose or maintain weight. Just having more muscle helps the body burn extra calories, even when you are not doing anything active.

Doing weights classes can help to build up bone density which reduces the risk of fractures and protects the body against osteoporosis

Finally, weightlifting can have additional cardiovascular benefits. Strength training sessions can reduce blood pressure with a desirable effect, helping people to sleep better.

Yoga

Yoga, as we all know, has both physical and mental health benefits. You don’t need to be a ‘yogi’ to know that it’s a healthy activity!

Yoga promotes psychological, self-healing methods whilst helping you to build strength, be aware of your mind and body in the now and find harmony.

There are various types of yoga, with most typically including breathing exercises, meditation, and carrying out a range of postures or poses that stretch various muscle groups.

The relaxation techniques promoted by yoga can be beneficial to people suffering chronic pain, such as arthritis, and it can also lower blood pressure thus reducing insomnia. What’s more, regular practitioners of yoga will notice greater flexibility, increased muscle tone and strength, more energy and, at times, weight loss.

Further examples of exercise types include:

  • Fitness classes
  • Cardio training
  • Stretching
  • Squatting
  • Pilates
  • Boxing
  • Zumba
  • Swimming

With a personal trainer specialised in cancer treatment, you will work on resistance and endurance to achieve your own personal goals.

Scientists from the University of Copenhagen have carried out some research to back this up. When observing mice with lung cancer, they saw that physical activity significantly reduced the size of the tumours they presented.

There is, therefore, an enormous and observable influence of exercise on tumours: in active mice, their tumours reduced by 50%, contrary to those that remained sedentary.

There are specialist organisations in the UK offering sports therapy as cancer treatment with specially-qualified trainers. Organisations such as Can Rehab develop and structure physical activity to suit the individual and their needs.

During exercise the body released adrenaline, which allows healthy cells to tackle cancer cells, thus increasing chances of recovery.

Researchers at the University of Toronto conducted a study on preventing the risk of recurrence after breast cancer. The study shows that, among physical activity, nutritional care, and no tobacco or alcohol, it is exercise that has the most substantial effects on the road to remission.

Inspiration from Some World-Class Athletes

Sportsmanship is actually quite similar to the fight against illness: in both cases you’re in a fight against yourself, you have to defeat your opponent and come out a winner. And winning once means you’ve got a good chance of winning again.

There are many top athletes who have won their own battles against the disease, such as:

  • Lance Armstrong, world cycling champion and seven-time winner of the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005, defeated testicular cancer with metastases in his abdomen, lungs and brain from 1996 to 1997 until his complete remission
  • Eric Shateau, US Olympic swimmer was diagnosed with cancer a week before the Beijing Olympic games. He went to Beijing and nearly made it to the finals of the 200-meter breaststroke. This didn’t end Shanteau’s athletic journey, and he won his battle against cancer.
  • Karen Newman, the seven-time American triathlete was diagnosed with breast cancer. During the two-year period of her diagnosis, Newman continued to train with Team USA, then going on to receive radiation therapy. She even races in the World Championships right in the middle of her chemotherapy, and now leads a healthy, cancer-free life.

So there you have it! Numerous studies and encouraging stories of survival showing us that cancer really can be treated with exercise. Speak to your doctor to find out what kind of activity plan would suit you and your needs.

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