Recent studies show the benefits of physical activity and what it can do to help prevent cancer and the recovery process following it.
Jennifer Bea, a physician at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, helped conduct a recent study of the effects of exercise during the recovery phase. The study included cancer survivors from all stages, from six months post-treatment to beyond five years.
The participants engaged in aggressive resistance exercises, such as weight lifting, stretching, home aerobic activity and balance training.
Bea said the study found camaraderie among the women participating in activity groups. Physically, they found increases in anti-inflammatory markers found in the bloodstream. They also found favorable changes in terms of body composition, muscle mass, and decreased fat mass.
“We think that inflammatory markers, and estrogens, and growth factors are associated with promoting tumors," Bea said. "And so if we can reverse that a bit, or at least minimize them, then we may have a better chance of keeping people away from recurrence or their cancer or second cancers."
“When people are in the throes of chemotherapy and radiation, I would say anything is better than nothing [when it comes to exercise],” she said. “Trying to move and trying not to be sedentary is our main recommendation.”
On days when survivors cannot get off the couch to do a full exercise routine, Bea suggests trying to do a lap around the house or the block. Ultimately, whatever exercise they feel they can handle, will help.
On better days post-treatment, Bea recommended survivors get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical aerobic activity per week and two or three days of weight training to keep their strength up. Bea also recommended that older individuals work on balance training to prevent falls.
Higher levels of physical activities are associated with decreased incidents of cancer, she said.
After diagnosis, Bea said, doctors see benefits in overall mortality rates of people with cancer and lower rates of recurrence. There is up to a 50 percent decrease with higher levels of physical activity, she said.
Bea said all people really need is about three hours a week of walking with a speed of about three miles per hour.
During the walks, Bea suggested getting to a moderate level of intensity to maximize the benefits of the workout. Walking at a pace at which one can still hold a conversation is a good moderate zone to be at. Bea called this the “talk test.”
Exercise also helps with other health issues.
“Physical activity has been shown time and time again to bring insulin and glucose back into balance and reduce those diabetes markers that you would naturally think of, and so it’s great for that as well,” Bea said.
Bea said the hard part is getting people to do the exercise.
“If it were a pill, I think that people would take it. This is actually better than any pill we could prescribe."
Ashley Grove is a University of Arizona journalism student and an intern at Arizona Public Media.